This tongue-in-cheek thank you note to the imaginary "Acme Corp." highlights the common mistakes compliance departments make — which only make the job of a plaintiff's attorney easier. Although a fake entity, "Acme Corp." shares characteristics with a company from which Ms. Chambers recently won a $2.4 million jury verdict for retaliation.
This article by
TELG principal Anita Mazumdar Chambers and TELG associate Tejal Garg was published by Corporate Compliance Insights on May 25, 2022.
The Thank You Note You Never Wanted
Two Plaintiff’s Lawyers Send You Their Best
By Anita Mazumdar Chambers and Tejal Garg
Dear Acme Corp. Compliance Department:
As the lawyers who just filed a retaliation complaint against Acme, we want to thank you for sending us another client. We think the case is a winner, and we’re grateful that you make our job so easy.
As you know, our client called your hotline to raise concerns about regulatory violations by her boss. Many companies handle such matters quickly and effectively, never requiring the employee to hire a lawyer. But like your slogan says, Acme does it differently!
We appreciate everything you did to help us here:
Your investigators offered no updates — and shared only a vague outcome at the end.
How better to suggest that your closed-door process is a sham?
After a rote acknowledgment of our client’s report, your department brushed off her requests for an update. You refused to say whether you would interview the people she suggested; or review the e-mails she forwarded; or look at the regulatory guidance she identified.
Then, at the end, you told her only that your investigation found her report to be “unsubstantiated.”
Zero details. No explanation of why her fears turned out to be unfounded. No changes to procedure, no education for managers — or at least, none that you’d share.
If not for the retaliation that followed, we wouldn’t even know that anyone at Acme read her report!
Oh, and you never thanked our client for making the report; never offered her any guidance on what to expect; never gave her the name of a contact person; and never described how to escalate her concerns.
No wonder she looked outside the company for help.
You revealed our client’s identity to her boss.
OK, maybe you never shared her actual name. But hey, you made it clear.
You asked her boss questions in such a way that the whistleblower’s identity was obvious. You quoted e-mails that were sent by her. You cited conversations where she and her boss were the only participants.
Our client saw an immediate difference in her boss’ attitude toward her: She was quickly given punitive tasks and shut out of meetings.
Our only note: If you want be even more certain that whistleblowers will hire a lawyer, try revealing their identity to more people. Why stop at their managers?
You didn’t watch out for retaliatory behavior — or follow up on reports of it.
Many compliance departments care about the retaliation that whistleblowers can face, and have solid procedures to monitor and stop such wrongdoing.
Acme does it differently!
Retaliation claims can be easy to prove in court, as any employee-side lawyer will tell you. So you really strengthened our client’s case not only by failing to shield her from reprisals, but also by ignoring her reports once the payback started.
A jury will be especially upset by your department’s complete disregard of her e-mail that flagged a big drop in her performance rating just one week after she made her hotline complaint — a punishment by her boss that paved the way for further retaliatory personnel actions.
Speaking of which …
You lost all credibility by pursuing discipline against our client.
Acme uses the same team to investigate compliance matters and disciplinary complaints. As a result, the person who was supposed to look into regulatory violations by our client’s boss also was asked to adjudge that same boss’ retaliatory claim that our client should be punished for breaking a company rule.
Not only did you fail to stop retribution against a whistleblower, in other words: You participated in it.
Compliance investigations are supposed to be conducted purely on their own terms, with the chips falling where they may. By handling a parallel H.R. matter that involved the same players — but with much different stakes — you destroyed the appearance of neutrality in either investigation.
How could our client believe that Acme was acting on her report, if its investigator also had the option to get her fired? Which action would be easier for Acme to take? Which action did it take, for that matter?
Of course she sought our counsel.
In short, you sent this client our way and gave us all the ammunition we need to win her case. Thanks! We’d prefer that Acme handled compliance properly, of course — but so long as you’re retaliating against people, we’re glad you make it so easy for them to get justice.
Our usual fruit basket is on the way.
Anita Mazumdar Chambers
CC: Acme Corp. CEO
Anita Mazumdar Chambers is a principal at The Employment Law Group, P.C. Tejal Garg is an associate at the firm. “Acme Corp.” is an imaginary entity, but it shares characteristics with a company from which Ms. Chambers recently won a $2.4 million jury verdict for retaliation.
(Note: This version has been edited slightly from the version published by Corporate Compliance Insights.)