Damages or Remedies for Whistleblowers
Whistleblower retaliation can exact a serious toll, including lost pay and benefits, reputational harm and emotional distress. Whistleblowers should be rewarded for doing the right thing, but all too often they suffer retaliation and find themselves marginalized and ostracized. Federal and state whistleblower laws provide several remedies to compensate whistleblowers that have suffered retaliation, including:
- back pay (lost wages and benefits);
- emotional distress damages;
- damages for reputational harm;
- reinstatement or front pay in lieu thereof;
- lost future earnings; and
- punitive damages.
Recently, a California jury awarded former Bio-Rad Laboratories Inc. General Counsel Sanford Wadler $11M in his Sarbanes-Oxley whistleblower retaliation lawsuit. Approximately $3M of the award is for back pay and the remaining amount is for punitive damages. Under the Dodd-Frank Act, backpay will likely be doubled. Wadler worked as GC at Bio-Rad for approximately 25 years. He blew the whistle internally by reporting potential violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”). Bio-Rad investigated Wadler’s disclosures and concluded that there was no evidence of either a violation or an attempted violation of the FCPA. In June 2013, Bio-Rad terminated Wadler’s employment due to alleged poor work performance and behavior.The jury verdict in the Wadler SOX case appears to be the highest award to date under the whistleblower protection provision of SOX. There are approximately three other SOX whistleblower cases that resulted in damages in excess of $2M:
- In 2014, a California jury awarded $6 million to Catherine Zulfer in her SOX whistleblower retaliation action against Playboy, Inc. (“Playboy”). Zulfer v. Playboy Enters. Inc., JVR No. 1405010041, 2014 WL 1891246 (C.D. Cal. Mar. 5, 2014). Zulfer, a former accounting executive, alleged that Playboy had terminated her in retaliation for raising concerns about executive bonuses to Playboy’s chief financial officer (“CFO”) and chief compliance officer (“CCO”). She contended that she had been instructed by Playboy’s CFO to set aside $1 million for executive bonuses that had not been approved by the board of directors. Zulfer refused to carry out this instruction, warning Playboy’s General Counsel that the bonuses were contrary to Playboy’s internal controls over financial reporting. After Zulfer’s disclosure, the CFO retaliated by ostracizing Zulfer, excluding her from meetings, forcing her to take on additional duties, and eventually terminating her employment. After a short trial, a jury awarded Zulfer $6 million in compensatory damages and also ruled that Zulfer was entitled to punitive damages. Id. Zulfer and Playboy reached a settlement before a determination of punitive damages.
- In 2016, Dr. Perez, a former senior manager of pharmaceutical chemistry at Progenics Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (“Progenics”), recovered a total of $5M in a SOX whistleblower case. Perez alleged that Progenics terminated his employment in retaliation for his disclosure to Progenics executives that the company was committing fraud against shareholders by making inaccurate representations about the results of a clinical trial. Dr. Perez represented himself at trial. Corporate Counsel magazine reported on the case in an article titled: How to Help a Whistleblower.
- In 2013, the Ninth Circuit affirmed a SOX jury verdict awarding $2.2 million in damages, plus $2.4 million in attorney’s fees, to two former in-house counsel. Van Asdale v. Int’l Game Tech., 549 F. App’x 611, 614 (9th Cir. Sept. 27, 2013). Shawn and Lena Van Asdale, both former in-house counsel at International Game Technology (“IGT”), alleged that they had been terminated in retaliation for disclosing shareholder fraud related to IGT’s merger with rival game company Anchor Gaming (“Anchor”). Specifically, the Van Asdales alleged that Anchor had withheld important information about its value, causing IGT to commit shareholder fraud by paying above market value to acquire Anchor. Van Asdale v. Int’l Game Tech., 577 F.3d 989, 992 (9th Cir. 2009). When the Van Asdales discovered the issue, they brought their concerns about the potential fraud to their boss, who had served as Anchor’s general counsel prior to the merger. IGT terminated both plaintiffs shortly thereafter.
The whistleblower lawyers at Zuckerman Law have substantial experience litigating whistleblower protection and whistleblower reward cases. If you have suffered retaliation for whistleblowing, call us at 202-262-8959 to schedule a free preliminary consultation.
Guide to Sarbanes-Oxley Whistleblower Protection law
The whistleblower protection provision of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act provides robust protection to corporate whistleblowers, and indeed some SOX whistleblowers have achieved substantial recoveries. On the fifteenth anniversary of SOX, leading whistleblower law firm Zuckerman Law released a free guide to the SOX whistleblower protection law: “Sarbanes-Oxley Whistleblower Protection: Robust Protection for Corporate Whistleblowers.” The guide summarizes SOX whistleblower protections and offers concrete tips for corporate whistleblowers based on lessons learned during years of litigating SOX whistleblower cases.
The goal of the guide is to arm corporate whistleblowers with the knowledge to effectively combat whistleblower retaliation, avoid the pitfalls that can weaken a SOX whistleblower case, and formulate an effective strategy to obtain the maximum recovery.
Damages Authorized by Sarbanes-Oxley Whistleblower Protection Law
Whistleblower Protections for Employees of Government Contractors and Grantees July 2015 marks the second anniversary…
For too long, taxpayers have been subsidizing whistleblower retaliation by paying legal costs incurred…
Whistleblower Protection and Employment Discrimination Legal Services Zuckerman Law is a Washington, DC-based law firm…
On April 15th, 2015, a whistleblower working at an Alabama plant that produces foam cushions…
A Bloomberg-BNA article entitled New Whistle-Blower Investigation Guidance From OSHA quotes leading whistleblower lawyer Jason Zuckerman whistleblower…