Corporate Whistleblowers

As part of our #GivingTuesday campaign this year, the National Whistleblower Center is highlighting the stories of several whistleblowers who spoke at the 2019 National Whistleblower Day celebration.

Sherron Watkins, Enron whistleblower

Sherron Watkins is the former Enron Vice President who wrote a now infamous memo in the summer of 2001 to then-CEO Kenneth Lay warning him about improper accounting methods.
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10/21 update: On Monday, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission announced it is rescheduling Wednesday’s meeting on proposed changes to its whistleblower program. According to the SEC’s open meeting website, the meeting, previously scheduled for October 23rd, is “cancelled.”

Stephen M. Kohn, chair of the NWC board, issued a statement; ” We welcome the postponement of the October 23rd meeting. It is vitally important that the SEC understands all of the issues and gets this rulemaking right.”


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Harvard Law School professor Terri Gerstein writes that the case of the IC whistleblower is strangely familiar to her.

A worker learns of brazen violations of law and feels compelled to speak up. The boss and his buddies go bananas, demanding to know the worker’s identity, making veiled or explicit threats, disparaging the worker’s credibility…

Terri Gerstein

Gerstein is director of the State and Local Enforcement Project at the Harvard Law School Labor and Worklife Program. Writing in The American Prospect, she describes what she’s seen in her years of enforcing workplace laws: A fast food is worker fired after reporting a gas leak to the fire department. An airport skycap reported fired the day after appearing at a press conference about minimum wage violation. Countless examples of workers being pressured to stay quiet about sexual harassment.

These examples point to the need for better protections for workers who report serious illegality. The focus on these high-profile whistleblowers should be a catalyst for strengthening whistleblower laws in general, which are currently a patchwork.

Protections vary from statute to statute and from state to state. Ideally, these laws would include strong protection against retaliation; confidentiality; standing for whistleblowers to bring their own lawsuits; and finally, incentives for coming forward. These goals are not unrealistic; the False Claims Act, for example, allows people reporting fraud against the government to file their own lawsuits. The Securities and Exchange Commission and the Internal Revenue Service have paid millions of dollars to whistleblowers who have provided original information leading to successful enforcement actions.
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Whistleblowers exposed the technology collapse at Theranos, the life science start-up at the center of a new HBO documentary.

In January, Tyler Shultz and Erika Cheung told their stories at a session hosted by Stanford University’s McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society. They talked about how disorienting and frightening their experiences at the company were after they realized the touted blood testing system didn’t work.

Cheung said she doubted herself at first. She had a feeling “that there was something wrong going on here, but maybe there is something I’m not seeing. You’re surrounded by so many talented people… Everyone else was being very nonchalant about what was going on, just going through the motions and the grind of every day, knowing there were so many problems.”

More in this clip. A video of the entire session is available on YouTube. 

4/2 update: CNN reports that Cheung and Tyler have started an organization called Ethics in Entrepreneurship.


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Some might see whistleblowers as lucky lottery winners when their multimillion-dollar rewards come through. But, the title of the piece in the February 4 issue of The New Yorker reflects the other side of the story: “The Personal Toll of Whistleblowing”

“Whistleblowers are usually, but not always, employees or members of the group on which they’re blowing the whistle; after they do so, their lives are never the same,” writes Sheelah Kolhatkar. She joined The New Yorker in 2016 after a writing about Wall Street and financial crime for Bloomberg Businessweek.

“Institutional denial, obfuscation, and retaliation are hallmarks of many whistle-blowing cases,” she writes.

new york whistleblower artKolhatkar runs through a list of notable whistleblowers, including New York City police officer Frank Serpico, tobacco company whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand; Sherron Watkins of Enron; and National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. That they were all portrayed in Hollywood films is no surprise. Whistleblower tales are often David versus Goliath dramas.


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Corporate ComplianceOriginally published at Corporate Compliance Insights on November 19, 2018 by Guest Columnist Donna Boehme.  

Donna Boehme, the “Lion of Compliance,” comments on Novartis as a new “rock star” on the corporate compliance landscape, observing that the company has elevated its approach to compliance, culture and trust to best practice “Compliance 2.0” status – first, with its 2014 appointment of an independent and empowered CECO with true compliance SME (earned in the field) and now, with the elevation of the role to include all management risk functions and with a seat on the executive management team. She also notes as best practice the company’s establishment of a new bonus system that links bonuses to ethical leadership behavior, a feature many leading companies have yet to achieve.
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its largest whistleblower awardMajor breakthrough for whistleblowers reporting commodity frauds

WASHINGTON, D.C. | July 12, 2018—The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) today announced its largest whistleblower award to-date in a commodity fraud case.  According to the Commission, it issued “an award of approximately $30 million to a whistleblower who voluntarily provided key original information that led to a successful enforcement action”
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