For companies of all types and sizes, and particularly those in highly regulated industries, such as health care, financial services, and energy, every aspect of their business conduct is subject to increasingly rigorous scrutiny. Even simple mistakes can trigger salacious whistleblower claims that are splashed across front-page headlines and have a devastating impact on the company’s stock price and brand. Our Whistleblowing and Compliance group works with clients and their audit committees to mitigate the risk of whistleblower claims. When a whistleblower complaint is filed, clients count on us to aggressively defend their interests, bottom line, and reputation.
Preventing Problems from Occurring
The best way to handle whistleblower claims is to avoid triggering them in the first place. Our clients turn to us to structure state-of-the-art compliance and reporting programs that encourage transparent workplaces. We have deep experience in this area—our group is led by a lawyer who testified in the U.S. Senate on creating effective compliance programs, served two terms on the U.S. Department of Labor’s Whistleblower Protection Advisory Committee, and wrote a national treatise on whistleblowing, now in its sixth edition. We also perform a review of our clients’ protocols and conduct trainings of board-level, C-suite, frontline managers, and rank-and-file employees on how to properly address and remediate problems in the workplace.
Investigating Allegations of Wrongdoing or Retaliation
Allegations of financial misconduct, safety violations, fraud, harassment, and discrimination in the workplace are among the types of wrongdoing that whistleblowers identify. Clients seek our help to investigate substantive allegations of workplace wrongdoing, no matter how sensitive or complex, and then recommend any necessary corrective action. We also advise on making voluntary disclosures and cooperating with government regulators. Additionally, we investigate allegations of retaliation by senior executives against the whistleblower.
Litigating Allegations of Retaliation
Whistleblower claims are often followed by retaliation lawsuits. Those suits can be lengthy, expensive, and disruptive to a client’s business operations and reputation. We act swiftly to help our clients avoid or minimize business and reputational harm. Our extensive experience defending clients against whistleblower actions brought under a raft of state and federal laws, including the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX), the Dodd-Frank Act, the False Claims Act (FCA), and the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, informs our strategy and guides us in building strong arguments to offer in our clients’ defense. We’ve handled retaliation cases in state and federal courts across the country, and at the U.S. Department of Labor, where many of these claims are first brought. Our talented team of litigators includes former federal and state prosecutors as well as a nationally known whistleblower defense lawyer who started the first whistleblower defense group in the country. In addition, we have cross-functional talent in our White Collar Defense and Federal & State FCA groups, among others, to provide an integrated response to efficiently resolve clients’ highly sensitive and brand-threatening cases.
- Quashed a $7 million whistleblower claim filed against a national insurance company by the president of the company’s subsidiary. The plaintiff alleged that he was fired for reporting to the Department of Insurance that his employer had filed fraudulent financial statements. We succeeded in transferring the case from a court to arbitration, pursuant to the plaintiff’s employment contract. The arbitrator ruled in favor of the insurance company.
- Led an investigation into, and advised the board of directors of a health system on, allegations of wrongdoing against the system’s CEO raised by a whistleblower who served as the health system’s General Counsel. As a result of the investigation, we assisted the system’s board with the transition of the CEO and the placement of an interim CEO.
- Obtained summary judgment in federal court on whistleblower retaliation claims by a former officer and director of a manufacturing and industrial client. We successfully argued that a company intent on firing an employee for whistleblowing activities would have done so when suspected wrongdoing against the officer was initially uncovered. (The company fired him at a later time because he failed to cooperate with the subsequent investigation into those claims.)
- Successfully defended a brokerage firm in a whistleblower action by a former chief compliance officer during a week-long FINRA arbitration.
- Conducted an internal investigation for a publicly traded Fortune 100 health care company after one of its senior compliance officials alleged that the company’s senior executives retaliated against him for raising concerns over perceived fraudulent billing practices. We presented the findings of our investigation to the company’s audit committee.
- Successfully defended a global manufacturer in a SOX/Dodd-Frank case brought by a compliance officer who was based in Europe and who alleged that he had uncovered a rampant scheme of bribery in the Pacific Rim and had experienced actionable retaliation for flagging his concerns. The case resolved favorably after we uncovered extensive misappropriation of documents by a compliance officer to his own personal email account.
- Successfully defended the largest energy pipeline manufacturer in the United States in multiple whistleblower retaliation disputes arising under the Pipeline Safety Improvement Act.
- Obtained the dismissal of an FCA whistleblower retaliation claim in federal court in Virginia on behalf of a major defense federal contractor. After successfully arguing that the plaintiff failed to establish that any false claims were in fact submitted to the government, we prevailed as a matter of law on a motion to dismiss.
- Conducted an internal investigation into a whistleblower complaint alleging possible legal violations by a public health system’s interim system CEO that were also potential violations of the client’s obligations under a corporate integrity agreement with the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General. Our investigative findings led to the termination of the interim system CEO.
- Obtained a complete defense verdict in a jury trial for a home furnishings company and its subsidiary. The two plaintiffs were former HR employees for the subsidiary whose jobs were terminated as part of a restructuring. One plaintiff claimed that she was terminated for being a whistleblower, and the other claimed that she was discriminated against because of an alleged disability. The jury issued a unanimous defense verdict on all counts after deliberating for only 90 minutes.