SOX Whistleblower Law Protects Disclosures About Bank Fraud Yes, a disclosure about bank fraud is protected conduct (protected whistleblowing) under the whistleblower protection provision of … Continued
Section 806 of SOX specifically provides that “[n]othing in this section shall be deemed to diminish the rights, privileges, or remedies of any employee under any Federal or State law, or under any collective bargaining agreement.” 18 U.S.C. § 1514A(d). A whistleblower who is fired for refusing to commit an illegal act could bring both a SOX claim and a common-law wrongful discharge claim. Bringing the latter claim could potentially result in an award of punitive damages. But note that in some states, where there is an adequate statutory remedy to vindicate the public policy objectives, the employee can pursue a retaliation action only through the statute.
The U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) administers the anti-retaliation provision of SOX. A SOX whistleblower claim must be filed initially with OSHA. OSHA will then investigate the complaint and may order preliminary reinstatement of the whistleblowers if it finds “reasonable cause” to believe that retaliation occurred.
Where an employer jumps on an employee’s first instance of misconduct or poor performance and subjects the employee to heightened scrutiny, the employer’s reliance on that alleged change in performance can be deemed a pretext for retaliation.
A prevailing SOX whistleblower can recover “all relief necessary to make the employee whole,” which includes:
back pay (lost wages and benefits);
reinstatement with the same seniority that the employee would have had, were it not for the retaliation;
special damages (damages for impairment of reputation, personal humiliation, mental anguish and suffering, and other noneconomic harm that results from retaliation); and
attorney’s fees, and costs
Although reinstatement is the preferred and presumptive remedy to make an employee whole, some SOX whistleblowers have recovered front pay in lieu of reinstatement. In Hagman v. Washington Mutual Bank, Inc., an ALJ awarded $640,000 in front pay to a banker whose supervisor became verbally and physically threatening when the banker disclosed concerns about the short funding of construction loans.