Legal Malpractice

On September 30, 2020, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia granted an employer’s motion to dismiss a Dodd-Frank whistleblower claim on the ground that the alleged whistleblower did not complain to the SEC prior to his termination.  The court also granted Plaintiff’s SOX whistleblower claim as against three affiliates of Plaintiff’s employer, holding that Plaintiff had failed to exhaust administrative remedies as to those defendants because he did not specify the allegedly wrongful conduct attributable to each of them in his administrative complaint.  Slawin v. Bank of America Merchant Services., et al., No. 19-cv-04129…
On September 23, 2020, by a vote of 3 to 2, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission announced the adoption of a final rule implementing several changes to its whistleblower program, citing the need to “provide greater clarity to whistleblowers and increase the program’s efficiency and transparency.”  The following addresses the key provisions of the final rule. The Commission Clarifies Its Award-Setting Procedures One of the most notable provisions of the final rule changed how the Commission sets award amounts.  Under the terms of the Dodd-Frank Act which established the whistleblower program, awards must equal between 10 percent and 30…
On September 14, 2020, the SEC announced payment of more than $10 million to a whistleblower who provided original information to the SEC that led to a successful enforcement action.  (The order granting the award can be accessed here.) In explaining the reason for its award determination, the SEC noted that the whistleblower had “provided extensive and ongoing assistance to the investigative team over the course of the investigation, including identifying witnesses and helping staff understand complex fact patterns and issues related to the matters under investigation.” Since issuing its first whistleblower award in 2012, the SEC has awarded…
On July 16, 2020, the Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a former IT analyst’s whistleblower retaliation claim, holding that he lacked an objectively reasonable belief that his complaints implicated one of the enumerated forms of fraud in the SOX whistleblower provision.  Reilly v. GlaxoSmithKline, LLC, No. 19-cv-2897. Background Plaintiff was an IT analyst for the Company, where his duties included maintaining the Company’s AS/400 computer servers and addressing performance and security issues related to them.  Beginning in 2011, Plaintiff allegedly began complaining to his supervisor about performance issues caused by the decision to “uncap” the servers’ processors,…
On June 15, 2020, Senator Kamala Harris and Representatives Jackie Speier and Jamie Raskin introduced the COVID-19 Whistleblower Protection Act (the “Act”), which seeks to provide protections for employees who blow the whistle on employers who misuse federal funds received through various measures enacted by Congress aimed at mitigating the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.  (The text of the proposed bill can be found here.)  Many of the whistleblower protections in the Act echo those contained in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 – the economic stimulus bill signed by President Obama in the wake of the…
On May 5, 2020, a Magistrate Judge in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania issued a report and recommendation recommending that a defendant-employer’s motion for summary judgment dismissing a SOX whistleblower retaliation claim be granted, finding that the plaintiff had not engaged in protected activity.  Wutherich v. Rice Energy Inc, No. 18-cv-00200. Background Plaintiff was a manager at the defendant-employer, an energy company involved in fracking.  In July 2016, Plaintiff allegedly overheard a co-worker discussing data regarding wells that the co-worker had obtained from a previous employer.  Plaintiff reported this incident to his supervisor and…
In recent weeks, there have been numerous widely reported incidents of employees, particularly those in the health care industry, claiming that they have been retaliated against for reporting health and safety concerns related to COVID-19.  Such complaints are indicative of the kinds of whistleblower and retaliation claims employers are likely to see in the near future as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, on April 8, 2020, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (“OSHA”), which according to a recent Washington Post article has received thousands of complaints from employees regarding a lack of protections against COVID-19 in their…
On December 9, 2019, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled that, as a matter of law, directors cannot be held liable under the anti-retaliation provisions of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.  Zornoza v. Terraform Global Inc., No. 18-cv-11617. Background Plaintiff is the former President and CEO of the defendant companies which were owned and controlled by a third company (“Owner”) for the purpose of purchasing and operating its energy plants.  In 2015, Plaintiff allegedly became concerned that Owner was publicly overstating its liquidity.  Plaintiff alleged that he reported his alleged concerns to Owner’s CEO…
On October 31, 2019, the ARB held that an employee who merely “hints” that he or she intends to file a whistleblower complaint has not engaged in protected activity sufficient to invoke the whistleblower protection provision in SOX.  Hoptman v. Health Net of California, ARB Case No. 2017-0052, (Oct. 31, 2019). Background Complainant was a claims representative for the Company, a health maintenance organization.  Complainant alleged that he discovered systemic overpayments to the Company by plan members and began working with a plan member to purportedly expose his employer’s actions.  Complainant allegedly texted the plan member and asked her…