Disclosures made in the course of performing one’s job duties are protected under the SOX whistleblower law
A consensus is emerging that the duty speech doctrine does not apply to SOX whistleblower claims.[i] The duty speech defense asserts that disclosures made while performing routine job duties are outside the ambit of protected conduct. The defense became increasingly popular in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2006 decision in Garcetti v. Ceballos, which held that government employees cannot bring First Amendment whistleblower retaliation claims based on work-related speech if the speech is part of their job duties.[ii]
Most Department of Labor (DOL) ALJs addressing this issue have declined to apply Garcetti to SOX claims. For example, Judge Lee Romero Jr. concluded that “one’s job duties may broadly encompass reporting of illegal conduct, for which retaliation results. Therefore, restricting protected activity to place one’s job duties beyond the reach of the Act would be contrary to congressional intent.”[iii]
Recently, a New York district court held in Yang v. Navigators Grp., Inc. that the duty speech defense is inapplicable to SOX claims.[iv] Jennifer Yang worked as the chief risk officer for Navigators Group (“Navigators”), an insurance company. Ms. Yang alleged that Navigators terminated her employment for disclosing to her supervisor deficient risk management and control practices. Navigators moved to dismiss Ms. Yang’s SOX claim in part on the basis that Yang’s disclosures about risk issues were “part and parcel of her job.”[v] The court rejected this duty speech argument, relying on a 2012 district court decision holding that “whether plaintiff’s activity was required by job description is irrelevant.”[vi]
[i] See, e.g., Robinson v. Morgan Stanley, ARB Case No. 07-070, 2010 WL 348303, at *8 (Jan. 10, 2010) (“[Section 1514A] does not indicate that an employee’s report or complaint about a potential violation must involve actions outside the complainant’s assigned duties.”).
[ii] See Garcetti v. Ceballos, 547 U.S. 410, 422 (2006).
[iii] Deremer v. Gulfmark Offshore, Inc., ALJ Case No. 2006-SOX-2, 2007 WL 6888110, at *42 (June 29, 2007).
[iv] See Yang v. Navigators Grp., Inc., 18 F. Supp. 3d 519, 530 (S.D.N.Y. May 8, 2014).
[vi] See id. at 531 (citing Barker v. UBS AG, 888 F. Supp. 2d 291, 297 (D. Conn. 2012)).
Recent cases also suggest that the “duty speech” doctrine does not apply to False Claims Act protected conduct.
SOX Whistleblower Protection Lawyers
We have assembled a team of leading whistleblower lawyers to provide top-notch representation to Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) whistleblowers. Recently Washingtonian magazine named two of our attorneys top whistleblower lawyers. U.S. News and Best Lawyers® have named Zuckerman Law a Tier 1 Law Firm in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area.
The whistleblower lawyers at Zuckerman Law have substantial experience litigating Sarbanes Oxley whistleblower retaliation claims and have achieved substantial recoveries for officers, executives, accountants, auditors, and other senior professionals. To schedule a free preliminary consultation, click here or call us at 202-262-8959.
- Matt Stock is a Certified Public Accountant, Certified Fraud Examiner and former KPMG external auditor. As an auditor, Mr. Stock developed an expertise in financial statement analysis, internal controls testing and fraud recognition, and he uses his auditing experience to help whistleblowers investigate and disclose complex financial frauds to the government and obtain damages for retaliation. He is lead author of SEC Whistleblower Program: Tips from SEC Whistleblower Attorneys to Maximize an SEC Whistleblower Award.
- Both Bachman and Zuckerman served in senior positions at the Office of Special Counsel, where they oversaw investigations of whistleblower retaliation claims and whistleblower disclosures, and enforced the Whistleblower Protection Act.
- Eric Bachman has substantial experience litigating precedent-setting employment cases. His wins include a $100 million settlement in a disparate impact Title VII class action and a $16 million class action settlement against a major grocery chain. Having served as Special Litigation Counsel in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice and as lead or co-counsel in numerous jury trials, Bachman is ready to go the distance to obtain the relief that you deserve.
- Bachman and Zuckerman served on the Department of Labor’s Whistleblower Protection Advisory Committee, which makes recommendations to the Secretary of Labor to improve OSHA’s administration of federal whistleblower protections.
- Jason Zuckerman was recognized by Washingtonian magazine as a “Top Whistleblower Lawyer” in 2017, 2015, 2009, and 2007, selected by his peers to be included in The Best Lawyers in America® in the category of employment law (2011-2017), and selected by his peers to be listed in SuperLawyers(2012 and 2015-2017) in the category of labor and employment law. Zuckerman is rated 10 out of 10 by Avvo, based largely on client reviews, and rated AV Preeminent® by Martindale-Hubbellbased on peer reviews.
- The firm has published extensively on whistleblower rights and protections, and regularly speaks nationwide at seminars and continuing legal education conferences. We blog about new developments in whistleblower law at the Whistleblower Protection Blog.
SEC Whistleblower Rewards
We are also one of the leading law firms representing whistleblowers worldwide before the SEC, and indeed our attorneys represented whistleblowers at the SEC before the enactment of the Dodd-Frank Act. We helped shape the SEC rules implementing the SEC Whistleblower Program, and have represented whistleblowers in disclosing a wide range of violations of federal securities laws, including:
- Accounting fraud;
- Investment and securities fraud;
- Foreign bribery and other FCPA violations;
- EB-5 investment fraud;
- Manipulation of a security’s price or volume;
- Fraudulent securities offerings and Ponzi schemes;
- Hedge fund fraud;
- Unregistered securities offerings;
- Investment adviser fraud;
- Anti-money laundering program violations;
- False or misleading statements about a company or investment;
- Inadequate internal controls;
- Deceptive non-GAAP financial measures; and
- Violations of auditor independence rules.
See our recent article in Forbes: One Billion Reasons Why The SEC Whistleblower-Reward Program Is Effective. If you have information you would like to report to the SEC, contact an experienced SEC whistleblower attorney at Zuckerman Law for a free, confidential consultation by calling 202-262-8959.
To learn more about the SEC Whistleblower Program, download our free guide SEC Whistleblower Program: Tips from SEC Whistleblower Attorneys to Maximize an SEC Whistleblower Award.
Client Reviews from Executives and Senior Professionals in SOX Whistleblower Retaliation Matters
- “Jason is the consummate professional when it comes to SOX retaliation claims. He is, without question, one of the most deeply knowledgeable, technical, and astute attorneys in this very specialized body of law. During one of the most difficult times in my professional career, Jason not only provided exceptional legal guidance, but equally as important, he provided emotional support that was vital to my family and me. Jason ran circles around the “major national law firm” team that was assigned to defend my employer. In fact, Jason made them look silly at times. Jason always advocated my best interests, not his own. Jason is not only an exceptional attorney who helped my family to achieve a favorable outcome, but he is a friend. I’ve worked with major law firms throughout my career and when it comes to SOX and employment law matters, there is not a finer, more talented attorney than Jason Zuckerman.”
- “Jason is everything you could possibly ask for an an attorney: highly intelligent, thoughtful, and extraordinarily knowledgeable in his specialty of the law. In a very short period of time Jason was able to assimilate a laundry list of details and offer a compelling strategy on how to effectively proceed. Moreover, he is extremely responsive.”
- “Jason did an exceptional job in quickly understanding the intricacies of my case, grasping not only his field of expertise of employment law, but also the violations of law and SEC Regulations that were central to my dispute. The overall strategy he utilized insured that opposing counsel was challenged and made clear that this case would simply not proceed based on a timetable convenient to them. Jason is thorough, accurate and seemingly working at all hours based on phone calls and correspondence. Fortunately Jason has a very down to earth personality, understands issues readily and can convey in understandable language current “legal” circumstances and probable outcomes. I would easily and thoroughly recommend Jason for issues related to a Sarbanes-Oxley or employment related dispute.”
- “I selected Jason to handle my case after consulting with three other lawyers because of his extensive SOX experience and negotiation skills. My decision paid off as he easily surpassed all of my expectations. He quickly analyzed the merits of my case and aggressively engaged my former employer to reach a favorable settlement, avoiding years of potential litigation. He was responsive, professional, ethical and a great advocate on my behalf. I truly believe that I could not have found a better lawyer to represent my interests. He would be the first person I would recommend if a colleague or friend were to ever need similar services. Put simply, Jason is a top notch lawyer who works tirelessly to achieve a positive outcome for his clients. It’s easy to see why he is regarded as an expert in the field.”
- “Jason Zuckerman is the most focused, thoughtful and aggressive attorneys I have ever known, let alone had the pleasure to have on my side in a highly complex legal case. He brought well-honed legal insights and a rapid pace to our legal preparations. He forcefully brought those preparations to the opposing side, which gave them little choice but to engage with us until a positive settlement was reached. In addition, we found Jason to be extremely responsive at every step, even if it required working past midnight. His character is beyond reproach and his dedication through the entire process was unwavering. If I ever need someone in my legal court again, I won’t hesitate for even a second, before I seek Jason’s support.”