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DOL ARB Affirms Reinstatement of Sarbanes-Oxley Whistleblower at DOD Contractor

In Brown v. Lockheed Martin Corp., the Administrative Review Board (ARB) affirmed the decision of the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) who ordered Andrea Brown reinstated to her previous position at DOD contractor Lockheed Martin, awarded her $75,000 in damages, and requested she submit an application for attorney fees and costs.  Beginning in June 2000, Brown worked as Communications Director for Lockheed Martin in Houston, Texas and reported to the Vice President of Communications, Wendy Owen.  The ARB described how Brown first uncovered fraudulent activity at Lockheed Martin:


In approximately May 2006, Brown had difficulty getting responses on work-related matters from Owen.  Brown discussed this difficulty with Tina Colditz, a communicator who reported directly to Owen, who also ran a Pen Pal program between Lockheed employees and U.S. soldiers in Iraq.  Colditz told Brown that Owen had developed sexual relationships with several soldiers in the Pen Pal program, purchased a laptop computer for one soldier, sent inappropriate e-mails and items to soldiers in Iraq, and had traveled to welcome-home ceremonies to visit soldiers on the pretext of business when she actually took soldiers in limousines to expensive hotels for intimate relations rather than working.  Colditz told Brown that she was concerned that Owen was expending company funds for these activities.  Brown understood that most expenses employees incurred were passed on to the customer, presumably the government in this case.  Brown knew that Lockheed’s standard business practice was to bill its costs to its customers.  Colditz told Brown that she had personally witnessed these activities or that Owen had told her about them.

Brown was concerned that Owen’s actions were fraudulent and illegal, and reported Owen to the Ethics Director.  Within a few days of Brown’s anonymous complaint, the Pen Pal program was discontinued, and Owen later changed positions but remained a vice president.

In March 2007, Lockheed Martin reorganized its Communications Department and in September 2007, Lockheed hired a new Communications Director.  Management then denied Brown an office, responsibilities, and any leadership position.  As a result, Brown had an emotional breakdown and sank into a very deep depression.  The ALJ ruled these acts violated the whistleblower provisions of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act:


The ALJ found causation between the protected activity [of reporting fraud] and adverse action because he found that Owen clearly poisoned [supervisors’] opinions regarding Brown’s qualifications and quality of work.  [Supervisors] relied on Owen in making evaluations of Brown.  The ALJ found that Brown told [management] that Owen knew about Brown’s involvement in the ethics complaint and also that Owen was involved in the process of filling her job position, but Lockheed failed to remove Owen from the process. The ALJ found that Lockheed should have taken steps to see that Owen could not retaliate against Brown and, therefore, Lockheed managers were complicit in allowing the retaliation.

To learn more about the special protections afforded employees who report fraud under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, click here.

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