New York whistleblower attorneys at Leeds Brown have experience holding companies accountable when an employer terminates or otherwise retaliates against an employee for exercising protected rights.
Various statutes make it unlawful for an employer to fire, harass, demote or punish an employee for reporting certain types of misconduct. For example, the federal Civil Rights Act prohibits employment discrimination based on protected characteristics. The same act prohibits retaliation against an employee who reports or complains about discrimination to someone a work or a government agency. Because of health and safety concerns, an employer may not retaliate against an employee who reports activity that violates OSHA. In New York State, an employer may not retaliate against someone who files a worker’s compensation claim.
Cases against employers for retaliation are often referred to as whistleblower cases, the whistleblower being the employee who shed light on the employer’s improper activity. When an employer fires, demotes, harasses or otherwise retaliates against that employee, the whistleblower may have a legal case against the employer.
These anti-retaliation laws exist to enable and encourage employees to speak up in the face of wrongful behavior by their employers without fear of negative consequences. In the event they experience retaliation for the whistleblowing, they are protected and have recourse against their employer.
In 2002, Congress passed the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX), which protects whistleblowers in the financial sector. In 2010, Congress amended SOX, adding to its provisions, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank). The laws apply to publicly and privately-held companies.
Under SOX, an employer may not retaliate against an employee for reporting any information protected or required by SOX, the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, and any other rule or regulation subject to the jurisdiction of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Dodd-Frank also protects workers who report truthful information relating to federal crimes.
But, SOX and Dodd-Frank do not protect all reports of information as evidenced by a recent court decision. In Diaz v. Transatlantic Reinsurance Co., the Plaintiff complained about that an EVP was violating the company’s internal conflict of interest policy by favoring family members who were also employees and by approving legal bills for services provided by her husband’s law firm. The plaintiff alleged that she was subjected to “unwarranted criticism and transferred to a less desirable department after complaining.”
On June 22, 2016, Judge Daniels of the Southern District of New York dismissed the SOX and Dodd-Frank whistleblower claims. The court ruled that the plaintiff’s internal complaints about the EVP did not trigger protection under the statutes. The complaints did not relate to securities law, wire-tapping or mail fraud and the internal conflict of interest policy was not a policy included in Dodd-Frank. The plaintiff tried to argue that the conflict of interest violations could affect shareholders, but the court found no sufficient evidence to agree.
Based on this decision, it would appear that when an employee complains about wrongful behavior, he or she might not have the whistleblower protection they believe. According to this court, the subject of the complaint must fall squarely into one of the categories of unlawful activities covered specifically by SOX and Dodd-Frank. To be a true whistleblower, you cannot be reporting just any old wrongdoing. It must be directly related to the statutory provisions.
Are you a whistleblower who has faced retaliation for filing a complaint regarding unlawful or inappropriate activity in your office? If so, speak with a New York whistleblower attorney at Leeds Brown and find out if you are entitled to protection under one of the numerous anti-retaliation laws.
Whether you work for a public or private company, your employer may not retaliate against you for shedding light on certain activities. Learn about your rights if you have been fired, demoted, reassigned or otherwise “punished” or retaliated against for filing a complaint against your employer.
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