Supreme Court Unanimously Holds that Whistleblowers Must First Report to the SEC Before Being Afforded Dodd-Frank Anti-Retaliation Protections
In a 9-0 opinion issued on Wednesday, February 21, in Digital Realty Trust v. Somers (2018), the Supreme Court resolved a circuit split by holding that Dodd-Frank’s anti-retaliation provision does not apply to an individual, like Somers, who reported a violation of the securities law internally at his company but did not report the violation to the SEC.
As we have previously written, this case came to the Supreme Court from the Ninth Circuit, affirming the District Court’s holding that Section 78u-6(h), Dodd-Frank’s anti-retaliation provision, did not necessitate reporting a potential violation to the SEC before gaining “whistleblower” status. Somers v. Digital Realty Trust Inc., 850 F.3d 1045 (9th Cir. 2016). The Fifth Circuit had previously come to the opposite holding. Asadi v. G.E. Energy (USA), L.L.C., 720 F.3d 620 (5th Cir. 2013). The Supreme Court decided this circuit split and … Read More »
Ninth Circuit: You Don’t Need to Report Securities Violations to the SEC to Be Protected by the Dodd-Frank Anti-Retaliation Provision
On March 8, 2017, a divided panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that the anti-retaliation provision of the Dodd-Frank Act protects individuals who make purely internal disclosures of alleged securities violations. The decision, Somers v. Digital Realty Trust, Inc., No. 15-17352 (9th Cir. March 8, 2017), aligns the Ninth Circuit with the Second Circuit, which reached the same result in Berman v. Neo@ogilvy, LLC, 801 F.3d 145 (2d Cir. 2015). These opinions stand in stark contrast to the position of the Fifth Circuit, which concluded in Asadi v. G.E. Energy (USA), L.L.C., 720 F.3d 620 (5th Cir. 2013), that in order to enjoy the protection of the anti-retaliation provision an individual must report the alleged securities violation to the SEC. While the Ninth Circuit’s decision is the latest entry in this evolving circuit … Read More »
District Court Invalidates Tolling Agreements in Criminal Securities Fraud Prosecution Case Due to Misunderstanding of Applicable Statute of Limitations
On January 30, 2017, the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey dismissed the government’s indictment against Guy Gentile for a pump-and-dump securities fraud scheme. After his arrest Gentile admitted to having engaged in the scheme and agreed to cooperate, which included signing two tolling agreements, each extending the statute of limitations for one year. In dismissing the indictments, the court held that the tolling agreements were invalid and the applicable statute of limitations for securities fraud was five years, not six years.
According to the opinion, Gentile engaged in a securities fraud scheme that indisputably ended in June 2008, at which time the statute of limitations for securities fraud was five years. In 2010, however, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act extended the statute of limitations to six years for certain criminal securities fraud … Read More »
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC or Commission) Office of Compliance Inspections and Examination (OCIE) issued a Risk Alert on October 24, 2016, titled “Examining Whistleblower Rule Compliance.” This recent Risk Alert continues the SEC’s aggressive efforts to compel Rule 21F-17 compliance and puts the investment management and broker-dealer industries on formal notice that OCIE intends to scrutinize registrants’ compliance with the whistleblower provisions of the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd–Frank). By way of background, Dodd–Frank established a whistleblower protection program to encourage individuals to report possible violations of securities laws. Importantly, in addition to providing whistleblowers with financial incentives, Rule 21F-17 provides that no person may take action to impede a whistleblower from communicating directly with the SEC about potential securities law violations, including by enforcing or threatening to enforce a severance agreement or a … Read More »
The U.S. Court of Appeals to the Second Circuit’s recent decision holding that Dodd-Frank’s “whistleblower” anti-retaliation protections apply to employees who are dismissed after reporting alleged violations internally but before alerting the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “Commission”) creates a Circuit spilt and sets up a potential statutory-interpretation showdown in the U.S. Supreme Court. Berman v. Neo@Ogilvie LLC & WPP Group USA, Inc., slip op. at 2 (2d Cir. Sept. 10, 2015).
The Second Circuit’s decision focuses on the conflict between Dodd-Frank’s definition of “whistleblower” as “any individual who provides . . . information relating to a violation of the securities laws of the Commission,” 15 U.S.C. § 78u-6(a)(6) (emphasis added), and the retaliation protection provision of the same statute which through incorporation of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act provides a cause of action to a “whistleblower” terminated after reporting alleged violations to … Read More »
SEC Uses Its Powers under the Dodd-Frank Whistleblower Provisions to Warn Employers Against Attempting to Restrict Employees’ Ability to Report Potential Violations
On April 1, 2015, the SEC announced a settled enforcement proceeding against KBR, Inc., a publicly traded, Houston-based technology and engineering company, for including “restrictive language” in confidentiality agreements used in the course of internal investigations. This is the first time the SEC has used its enforcement powers under Rule 21F-17 of the Whistleblower provisions of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010. Rule 21F-17 provides that “[n]o person may take any action to impede an individual from communicating directly with the Commission staff about a possible securities law violation, including enforcing, or threatening to enforce, a confidentiality agreement … with respect to such communication.”
The language to which the SEC took exception appeared in confidentiality agreements KBR used in connection with internal investigations. The statement, which investigators required employees to sign before the interview, was included … Read More »
UPDATE: Third Circuit Affirms Arbitrability of Dodd-Frank Retaliation Claim in Khazin v. TD Ameritrade Holding Corp., ___ F.3d ___, No. 14-1689, 2014 WL 6871393 (3d Cir. Dec. 8, 2014).
In March, we wrote about a ruling out of the District of New Jersey enforcing an arbitration provision contained in an employment agreement that pre-dated Dodd-Frank. The court reasoned that to disregard a pre-Dodd-Frank arbitration provision “would fundamentally interfere with the parties’ contractual rights and would impair the predictability and stability of their earlier agreement.” Khazin v. TD Ameritrade Holding Corp., Civil Action No. 13-4149 (SDW)(MCA), 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 31142 (D.N.J. Mar. 11, 2014). The court also emphasized the “strong federal policy in favor of the resolution of disputes through arbitration” and cited a number of other federal courts that have reached a similar result. Id.
The Third Circuit, though, declined to reach this issue. Instead, it determined that Khazin’s claim, which was brought under Dodd-Frank, was not subject to the Anti-Arbitration Provision at all. 2014 WL 6871393, at *2. … Read More »
The SEC recently announced a record-breaking whistleblower award of $30-35 million, which shattered the previous high award of $14 million. See SEC Awards More Than $14 Million to Whistleblower. Not only is this award noteworthy for its size, but also because it was made to a foreign resident and it could have been even higher if the whistleblower did not unreasonably delay in reporting the violations.
This was not the first award made to foreign residents, but it was the first award made to a foreign resident since the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit found that the anti-retaliation protections of Section 21F(h) of the Dodd-Frank Act do not apply to foreign whistleblowers who experience retaliation overseas from foreign employers. Liu v. Siemens, __ F.3d __, 2014 WL 3953672 (2d Cir. Aug. 14, 2014); see also Made for the U.S.A. … Read More »
Since our last quarterly update, the SEC’s Office of the Whistleblower (“OWB”) has issued four denial orders and three award orders. Here are some lessons learned from this activity:
• The SEC Will Not Award Whistleblowers Who Provide Frivolous Information. The SEC determined that a claimant (who submitted “tips” relating to almost every single Notice of Covered Action”) was ineligible for awards because he/she “has knowingly and willfully made false, fictitious, or fraudulent statements and representations to the Commission over a course of years and continues to do so.” Under Rule 21F-8, persons are not eligible for an award if they “knowingly and willfully make any false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation, or use any false writing or document knowing that it contains any false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or entry with intent to mislead or otherwise hinder … Read More »
In a first of its kind case, the SEC last week charged an investment adviser to a hedge fund with, among other things, retaliating against an employee who reported allegedly illegal trading activity to the agency. The SEC exercised its authority under a Commission rule adopted in 2011 under the Dodd-Frank Act, which permits enforcement actions based on retaliation against whistleblowers.
Under the Exchange Act, employers may not “discharge, demote, suspend, threaten, harass, directly or indirectly, or in any other manner discriminate against, a whistleblower in the terms and conditions of employment because of any lawful act done by the whistleblower.” 15 U.S.C. § 78u-6(h)(1)(A). The Act also provides that the Commission “shall pay an award or awards to 1 or more whistleblowers who voluntarily provided original information to the Commission that led to the successful enforcement of the covered judicial … Read More »