SEC Awards More Than One Million Dollars to Compliance Officer
On April 22, 2015, the SEC announced an award of between $1.4 million and $1.6 million to a compliance officer who provided original information to the SEC that led to the successful enforcement of a covered action. Exchange Act Rel. 74781 (Apr. 22, 2015). The Dodd-Frank Whistleblower rules generally exclude information that is obtained by an “employee whose principal duties involve compliance or internal audit responsibilities … .” 17 C.F.R. § 240.21F-4(b)(4)(iii)(B). This rule would ordinarily prevent those employees from qualifying as a Whistleblower. An exception applies, however, when the employee has “a reasonable basis to believe that disclosure of the information to the Commission is necessary to prevent the relevant entity from engaging in conduct that is likely to cause substantial injury to the financial interest or properly of the entity or investors … .” 17 C.F.R. § 240.21F-4(b)(4)(v)(A).
The SEC determined this exception was applicable here. According to Andrew Ceresney, Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement, “This compliance officer reported misconduct after responsible management at the entity became aware of potentially impending harm to investors and failed to take steps to prevent it.” Press Rel. 2015-73. Despite the limitation on compliance and audit employees to qualify as Whistleblowers, this is the second time the SEC has relied on the exception to make an award to an employee with compliance or audit responsibilities. Last August, the SEC announced an award of more than $300,000 to an employee who performed compliance and audit functions. Press Rel. 2014-180.