Supreme Court Says SOX Can Fit Almost Anyone

NOTE: A version of this post first appeared on Law360.com.  The author, R. Scott Oswald, was counsel of record on an amicus curiae brief filed in this case.

Supreme CourtIn deciding Lawson v. FMR LLC, the first whistleblower case they have heard under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX), the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court agreed that the law’s ambiguous anti-retaliation provision offered two alternatives, both somewhat unappealing:

  • Either it doesn’t protect a large class of whistleblowers — in many cases, the people most likely to discover financial wrongdoing;
  • Or it protects virtually anyone hired by a publicly traded company or by its employees, either directly or indirectly, and forbids reprisal for a huge range of fraud reports.

Led by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a 6-3 majority unflinchingly chose the broader interpretation, instantly giving SOX “a stunning reach,” in the words of a dumbfounded dissent by Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

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The Top Ten Whistleblower Decisions of 2013: Part 1

For whistleblowers and their advocates, 2013 was a whipsaw year: Big advances followed sharp letdowns in quick rotation — sometimes from the same source. (Ahem, Supreme Court and White House.)

Plus there was the Snowden sideshow. But since NSA leaker Edward Snowden was never a real whistleblower — he acted outside the law and fled the consequences — his headline-grabbing revelations taught us no useful legal lessons.

Instead, the true news of 2013 was choppy-but-clear progress toward more employee-friendly readings of federal whistleblower laws. After two years of success at the administrative level, retaliation victims started getting their day in ever-higher courts. The U.S. Supreme Court put a cherry on the trend by hearing arguments in Lawson v. FMR LLC, its first whistleblowing case under the crucial Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX).

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Maryland’s High Court Finalizes Verdict In “Cat’s Paw” Case

DISCLAIMER: THIS POST CONCERNS A CLIENT OF THE EMPLOYMENT LAW GROUP® LAW FIRM. THE RESULTS OF ALL CASES DEPEND ON A VARIETY OF FACTORS UNIQUE TO EACH CASE. PAST SUCCESSES DO NOT PREDICT OR GUARANTEE FUTURE SUCCESSES.

Maryland’s highest court finalized the reinstatement of a jury’s $650,000 award to Donna Jackson for her former employer’s retaliation after she reported a subordinate’s gender discrimination complaint.

By declining to review a lower court decision, the Maryland Court of Appeals also solidified the state’s adoption of “cat’s paw” liability, under which an employer may be held liable for retaliation against an employee even if the actual decision-maker was unaware of a retaliatory motive.

Ms. Jackson was represented by The Employment Law Group® law firm.

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Maryland Appeals Court Restores $650,000 Jury Verdict for Whistleblower

DISCLAIMER: THIS POST CONCERNS A CLIENT OF THE EMPLOYMENT LAW GROUP® LAW FIRM. THE RESULTS OF ALL CASES DEPEND ON A VARIETY OF FACTORS UNIQUE TO EACH CASE. PAST SUCCESSES DO NOT PREDICT OR GUARANTEE FUTURE SUCCESSES.

A Maryland appeals court has reinstated a jury’s 2011 award of $650,000 to Donna Jackson, a plaintiff represented by The Employment Law Group® law firm, for her former employer’s retaliation after she reported a subordinate’s gender discrimination complaint.

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R. Scott Oswald Publishes Article Review of Whistleblower-Favorable Trends in 2012

R. Scott Oswald, managing principal of The Employment Law Group, P.C., recently published an article in Law360 reviewing favorable developments in employment law for whistleblowers during 2012.

According to Oswald, these developments “further open the door to greater whistleblower revelations in the future, resulting in fewer laws being broken, savings for taxpayers, safer working conditions, increased awards to relators, other benefits and even lives being saved.”

Among the significant developments for whistleblowers in 2012 discussed were:

  • The Department of Justice collecting nearly $5 billion in False Claims Act settlements and judgments
  • The IRS and SEC Whistleblower Offices announced some of their first and largest awards
  • The passage of the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA) strengthened legal protections for federal employees who blow the whistle by disclosing government abuse, fraud and waste
  • States continued to enact local False Claim Acts to come into compliance with the federal False Claims Act
  • The Administrative Review Board (ARB) at the Department of Labor continued its whistleblower-favorable trend
  • Federal courts interpreted the Dodd-Frank Act’s anti-retaliation provisions to include internal complaints, with the first Dodd-Frank claims surviving a motion to dismiss in federal court.

The article, “2012 Opens The Door For More Whistleblower Participation”, was published in the January 3, 2013 edition of Law360.

 

The Employment Law Group® law firm has an nationwide whistleblower protection practice representing employees who have been victims of retaliation, including a $819,000 False Claims Act whistleblower retaliation verdict on behalf of a client.

The Daily Cavalier Interviews Attorney Adam Carter on Recent $819,000 Whistleblower Retaliation Verdict in False Claims Act Lawsuit Involving Misuse of NIH Research Grants

Last week, The Daily Cavalier, a newspaper serving the University of Virginia community in Charlottesville, Virginia, interviewed Adam August Carter, principal of The Employment Law Group® law firm, on his client, Dr. Weihua Huang’s recent $819,000 whistleblower retaliation jury verdict.

Dr. Huang was a UVA researcher working on a research project funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH) who faced retaliation and termination after reporting improper and unauthorized modifications to the terms of a National Institute of Health (NIH) research grant.

On October 12, 2012, a federal jury awarded Dr. Huang compensation for back pay which accumulated after his termination in November 2009, as well as approximately $500,000 in non-economic damages, including damage done to his academic reputation.  Additionally, Dr. Huang may receive further compensation in the form of court fees and costs and “front-pay”, or funds which would compensate him for the future earnings Huang could have receive had he continued in his position at UVA.

According to Dr. Huang’s attorney, Adam Augustine Carter, the recent ruling could have a significant impact on UVA and judicial precedent regarding the False Claim Act, a federal law that permits legal action against individuals or corporations that fraudulently obtain government funds.

Specifically, according to Mr. Carter, “it’s clear now that the University accepts federal funds in trust for the benefit of all the taxpayers and that the University is not going to be permitted to make changes at its whim without the clear authorization of the principal investigator.”

Mr. Carter further mentioned that this case may not mark the last time the issue arises either, noting that “[the defendants] said they do this all the time and that it’s routine, which tells me that this [ruling] is really going to shake up the way the accounting is going to be done on these NIH grants,” he said.

The article, entitled “Whistleblower wins unfair contract termination suit: Court ruling awards former laboratory researcher more than $800,000, finds unfair contract termination”, was published on October 17, 2012 in the online edition of The Cavalier Daily.

The Employment Law Group® law firm’s whistleblower attorneys have helped many clients file suit against employers that fraudulently bill the U.S. government, and have established favorable precedents under the retaliation provision of the False Claims Act.