Today, the U.S. Department of Labor issued a summary of the September 2012 decisions of its Administrative Review Board (ARB). The twelve decisions issued in September cover important procedural issues involving the time limits for filing complaints and petitions for review to the ARB, considering motions for summary decision, and approving settlement agreements. Read more about these decision in the continuation of this blog post.
This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an order inviting the Solicitor General of the United States to file a brief “expressing the views of the United States” in Lawson v. FMR. This is a good sign that the Supreme Court is interested in the case, and could accept the case if the Solicitor…
Today, attorney Stephen Kohn (Executive Director of the National Whistleblowers Center) and I are filing an amicus brief with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Administrative Review Board (ARB). The brief urges the ARB to affirm a decision of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) in favor of Christopher Bala, a signalman for the PATH railway that…
Yesterday, the National Whistleblowers Center filed an amicus, or friend of the court, brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in its case of Wiest v. Lynch, Case No. 11-4257. The main issue is whether the Court should adopt the ARB’s broad “reasonable belief” standard for determining protection activity, or…
By a 3-2 vote on a major case, the Department of Labor’s Administrative Review Board (ARB) has limited the application of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) whistleblower protection outside the boundaries of the United States. The case is Villanueva v. Core Laboratories, NV, ARB No. 09-108, ALJ No. 2009-SOX-6 (ARB Dec. 22, 2011) (en banc). The decision is particularly disappointing after the ARB had called for supplemental briefing. Stakeholders on both sides, including the National Whsitleblowers, submitted amicus briefs setting out the applicable caselaw, legislative history, and contextual effects of this important legal issue. Unlike prior decisions that summarily dismissed any extraterritorial application of SOX’s whistleblower protection (such as the Canero and Ede), this time the ARB had full briefing of the relevant considerations and the majority still resists protecting whistleblowers from other countries.
Last August, I posted to this blog a description of the Villanueva case and the amicus brief submitted by NWC and the National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA). The brief argues that SOX should protect tax whistleblower William Villanueva, even though he worked for Core Lab’s subsidiary in Columbia. Core Laboratories NV is a publicly traded company based in Houston, Texas. It provides services to the petroleum industry. For 16 years, William Villanueva worked as CEO of Saybolt Columbia, Core’s subsidiary. On page 3, the ARB noted that “Saybolt Colombia does not register securities under Section 12 or file reports [with the SEC].” This fact became immaterial after the ARB’s well-considered decision in Johnson v. Siemens Building Technologies, ARB No. 08-032, ALJ No. 2005-SOX-0151 (ARB March 31, 2011). In Johnson, the ARB held that SOX has always protected the employees of subsidiaries of publicly traded companies.
In 2008, Villanueva sent emails to corporate executives in Houston reporting how other company executives were engaged in tax-transfer schemes that falsely transferred profits to low-tax Curacao, an island in the Caribbean Sea. He also reported that Core Lab’s accountants in Columbia were making false claims to evade the Columbian value added tax (VAT). After Villanueva refused to sign a false tax return, Core fired him.
Villanueva filed a complaint with the Department of Labor (DOL) claiming that he was fired in retaliation for raising his concerns. He claimed that his discharge violated the 2002 SOX law. An administrative law judge (ALJ) dismissed the case without a hearing on grounds that Villanueva worked outside the U.S. Villanueva appealed to the ARB. Earlier this Summer, the ARB asked for amicus briefs on the effect of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Morrison v. National Australia Bank, 130 S. Ct. 2869 (2010).
On page 5, the Villanueva majority notes that the president of Saybolt Latin America (an intermediate Core subsidiary) fired Villanueva in a letter “written in Spanish[.]” While reading this phrase, I had the sense that the ARB majority was motivated not so much by the remedial purpose of SOX as by the administrative inconvenience of helping whistleblowers from different cultures. On page 29, Judge E. Cooper Brown noted the majority’s concern, on page 10, about how its decisions could be enforced extraterritorially. Certainly, I would agree that the Department of Labor (DOL) ALJs are overworked. To me, however, the solution should not be to limit DOL services to whistleblowers in this country, but rather to explain how the remedial purpose of SOX requires protection of whistleblowers throughout the world, and then ask Congress to authorize the hiring of the necessary ALJs and enforcement attorneys.
Earlier this week, I submitted comments to DOL’s new rules for SOX cases that reflect the changes enacted in the Dodd-Frank Act. On pages 5-6, I urged the DOL to adopted a new rule that makes clear that SOX has the same extraterritorial reach as the SEC’s enforcement authority. It makes no sense that U.S. securities law would require publicly traded companies to file reports that accurately reflect the state of the entire business — including foreign operations — and then deny protection to employees operating within those foreign operations who raise concerns about the propriety of company operations and reports. Hopefully, DOL leadership will see this wisdom and correct this policy in their final SOX regulations.
In the continuation of this blog entry, I discuss the majority opinion’s reasoning and the insights of the two dissents. I also provide a tip for SOX practitioners with extraterritorial issues.
The National Whistleblowers Center (NWC) and the National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA) filed an amicus brief this week in Villanueva v. Core Laboratories NV, a case pending at the U.S. Department of Labor’s Administrative Review Board (ARB). The brief argues that SOX should protect whistleblower William Villanueva, even though he worked for Core’s subsidiary…
On May 25, 2011, the Department of Labor’s Administrative Review Board (ARB) issued a major decision in favor of whistleblowers. In Sylvester v. Parexel International, ARB Case No. 07-123 (ARB May 25, 2011), the ARB held that a whistleblower only needs a “reasonable belief” of a violation to engage in protected activity under …
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Administrative Review Board (ARB) (shown in a file photo) yesterday decided that the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) protects the employees of subsidiaries of publicly traded companies. The case is Carri Johnson v. Siemens Building Technologies, Inc., ARB Case No. 08-032 (ARB Mar. 31, 2011). This is the first case in which the Obama Era ARB requested amicus briefs. The prior administration had held that SOX would not protect employees of a subsidiary unless the employee could show that the subsidiary was acting as an agent of the publicly traded parent company. The National Whistleblowers Center (NWC) joined with the National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA) and the Government Accountability Project (GAP) to to submit an amicus brief as requested by the ARB. In the meantime, Congress enacted the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Section 929A of Dodd-Frank amended SOX to make coverage of subsidiaries clear. NWC submitted a supplemental brief. The ARB’s majority opinion, however, would not give direct effect to the Senate Report’s declaration that Section 929A was a clarification rather than an amendment. (S. Rep. 111-176, p. 11, stated, “This clarification would eliminate a defense now raised in a substantial number of actions brought by whistleblowers under the statute.”) Instead, the ARB finds that Section 929A is a reasonable interpretation of the 2002 SOX language, and consistent with its remedial purpose.
The U.S. Department of Labor has finally issued its responses to comments submitted in 2007 about its interim regulations for nuclear and environmental whistleblowers. Codified at 29 CFR Part 24, these regulations have been trendsetters for regulations affecting other whistleblower statutes. The Department had issued interim regulations in 2007, and received a variety of comments, including comments made by the National Whistleblowers Center (NWC), and comments that attorney Jason Zuckerman and I made (before I came to work for NWC in 2008).
One of the most significant new changes is that oral complaints to OSHA will now be allowed. This is particularly helpful in environmental cases where the statute of limitations remains terribly short at 30 days. Still, it will be advisable for whistleblowers or their advocates to make out a written complaint and fax it in to OSHA to document how they are meeting the time limit. Where a whistleblower has merely called into OSHA, OSHA is now required to reduce the complaint to writing and document the date of the call. 29 CFR § 24.103(b). If the call was within the 30 day time limit, it can save a case that would otherwise be dismissed. Complaints can also be made in languages other than English.
The final regulations became effective on January 18, 2011, and they are published at 76 FR 2808 (page 2808 of volume 76 of the Federal Register).
Today the Department of Labor’s Administrative Review Board (ARB) held its first oral argument in a case under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX). Last November, the ARB gave notice of today’s oral argument, and invited interested groups to submit friend-of-the-court (or “amicus”) briefs. The ARB asked the parties to address issues of how specific OSHA complaints have to be, whether Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) can grant motions to dismiss on the pleadings, and the nature of protected activity under SOX. A prior blog post covered the amicus briefs, including the briefs of the National Whistleblowers Center and Doug Evans. Pictured here are ARB Board Members Luis Corchado, Paul Igasaki (Chair), E. Cooper Brown (Vice-Chair) and Joanne Royce.