A jury verdict awarding more than $3 million to Plaintiff James Crowley (Plaintiff) on his whistleblower retaliation claim under the Illinois State Official and Employee Ethics Act (Ethics Act) (5 ILCS § 430/15-5, et seq.) Crowley v. Watson, No. 1-14-2847 (Mar. 2, 2016) was upheld by an Illinois Appellate court on March 2, 2016. To read our previous reports on the progression of the case, please click here and here.
On September 28, 2015, the U.S. Department of Labor Administrative Review Board (“ARB”) held that the recording of workplace conversations can be protected whistleblower activity under the Energy Reorganization Act of 1974 (“ERA”). Franchini v. Argonne National Laboratory, ARB Case No. 13-081 (Sep. 28, 2015).
In a recent interview with Law360 (subscription required), Chris Ehrman, the Director of the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s Whistleblower Office, predicted that the number and size of the CFTC’s whistleblower awards will increase in the near future. Ehrman also said that the agency will conduct “straight marketing” to ensure that potential whistleblowers are aware of the agency’s whistleblower bounty program.
The CFTC’s Whistleblower Program is similar to the SEC’s program in that whistleblowers who voluntarily provide the CFTC with original information about violations of the Commodity Exchange Act resulting in a $1 million or greater recovery are eligible to receive 10 to 30 percent of the monies collected. Ehrman acknowledged that the CFTC’s whistleblower program, which paid its first award in May 2014 and has received only 227 whistleblower tips in fiscal year 2014 versus the SEC’s 3,620, has gotten off to a slower start than the SEC’s program. Ehrman attributes the slow start to the fact that the CFTC, which is limited to regulating the commodities industry, has a “smaller footprint than the SEC.” Ehrman also noted that, unlike the SEC, the CFTC does not have the authority to enforce Dodd-Frank’s anti-retaliation provision.
The Second Circuit Court of Appeals recently deferred to the SEC’s determination that a tipster who provided information to the Commission before July 21, 2010, the effective date of the Dodd-Frank Act, is not eligible to receive a whistleblower bounty payment. Stryker v. SEC, Case No. 13-4404-ag (2d Cir. Mar. 11, 2015).
On March 2, 2015, the SEC announced an expected award of $475,000 to $575,000 to a former company officer “who reported original, high-quality information about a securities fraud that resulted in an SEC enforcement action with sanctions exceeding $1 million.” The officer reported information to the SEC more than 120 days after other responsible compliance personnel at the company in possession of the information purportedly failed to adequately address the issue. This is the first of its kind under the SEC’s whistleblower program, and the first award announced this year.
The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin in Verfuerth v. Orion Energy Systems, Inc., No. 14-cv-352 (E.D. Wis. Nov. 4, 2014) recently ruled that the Dodd-Frank whistleblower protection provision does not protect employees who only report alleged violations of the securities laws internally. In dismissing a former CEO’s whistleblower retaliation claim, the court followed the Fifth Circuit’s decision in Asadi v. F.E. Energy (USA), L.L.C., 720 F.3d 620 (5th Cir. 2013) and held that the text of the statute requires that a “whistleblower” report an alleged violation to the SEC to be covered by Dodd-Frank’s whistleblower protection provision.
According to an academic study published on October 6, 2014 by Andrew C. Hall, Gerald S. Martin, Nathan Y. Sharp, and Jaron H. Wilde, the presence of whistleblowers may have a meaningful impact on the outcomes of enforcement actions brought by the SEC and DOJ. The study involved an analysis of the effect of whistleblowers on enforcement actions for alleged financial misrepresentation, as measured by regulatory penalties (and criminal prison sentences). The study’s authors reviewed the outcomes of SEC and DOJ enforcement actions between 1978 and 2012 associated with alleged financial misrepresentation. According to the study, the involvement of whistleblowers in enforcement actions is associated with an average penalty of $90.16 to $92.88 million higher than when no whistleblower is involved. The study also found that whistleblower involvement is associated with executives and employees at firms being fined $50.22 to $56.50 million more than in actions without whistleblowers.