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Fourth Circuit Holds SOX Retaliation Plaintiffs May Recover Emotional Distress Damages

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit is now the third federal appeals court –joining the Fifth and Tenth circuits – to hold that emotional distress damages are available under the anti-retaliation provision of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (SOX ). SOX section 806 protects employees from firing or other adverse actions for reporting that their publically traded employers misstated or omitted information in filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission or violated any SEC rule.

In Jones v. SouthPeak Interactive Corp. of Delaware, (4th Cir. 2015), the former Chief Financial Officer of video game publisher SouthPeak, Andrea Gail Jones, sued under the SOX anti-retaliation provision. Jones alleged that SouthPeak fired her because she refused to sign a proposed amendment that denied SouthPeak intentionally omitted a $307,400 wire transfer in the company’s balance sheet and quarterly financial report filed with the SEC. Jones allegedly refused to sign because when she first notified her supervisor of the omission, he rebuffed her and failed to add it to the filing.

The Fourth Circuit upheld the jury’s award of emotional distress damages to Jones, finding that the relief is permissible because 18 U.S.C. 1514A(c)(1) states that an employee prevailing in a SOX retaliation action “shall be entitled to all relief necessary to make the plaintiff whole.”

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