Wyatt Employment Law Report

U.S. Supreme Court Extends SOX Whistleblower Protection to Employees of Private Contractors Who do Business with Public Companies

Leave a comment

By R. Joseph Stennis

In Lawson, et. al. v. FMR LLC, No. 12-3 (decided March 4, 2014), a divided U.S. Supreme Court confirmed that the whistleblower protections contained in the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (“SOX”) extend to employees who work for private contractors that do business with public companies. At issue in the case was a bit of text in SOX which provides that, “[n]o public company. . . or any . . . contractor . . . of such company may [retaliate] against an employee . . . because of [SOX- protected activity].”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit had held this language applied exclusively  to employees of  public companies and not to employees of private contractors that do business with public companies. The First Circuit’s ruling was  in sharp contrast to  decisions issued by the Administrative Review Board of the U.S. Department of Labor (“ARB”).  For example, in Spinner v. David Landau & Assoc. LLC, Nos. 10-111 and 10-115 (decided May 31, 2012), the ARB held that a private contractor’s employee who was a whistleblower as to fraudulent activity by his company was covered by SOX and therefore protected by its anti-retaliation provisions.

In Lawson, the whistleblower plaintiffs were employed by private companies that performed as advisers to public mutual fund institutions.  Petitioners, Jackie Lawson and Jonathan Zang, urged the High Court to overrule the First Circuit and extend whistleblower protections to employees of private contractors of publicly held companies. The respondents argued that the petitioners’ interpretation would lead to an unlimited application of the statute.  Ultimately, the Supreme Court in a 6-3 ruling—penned by Justice Ginsburg—concluded that the plain meaning of SOX’s text, SOX’s legislative history, and its overall statutory purpose favored a wider interpretation and reading of the provisions than favored and advocated by the respondent companies.

Thus, Lawson establishes that an employee of a private contractor that does business for a public company and is retaliated against for engaging in SOX protected conduct would be entitled to pursue an anti-retaliation claim under SOX against that private employer.

Leave a reply. Please note that although this blog may be helpful in informing clients and others who have an interest in information privacy and security, it is not intended to be legal advice. The information on this blog also should not be relied upon to form an attorney-client relationship.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s