Whistleblower Retaliation Cases and Settlements
Whistleblowers are vital to the ethical and moral compass of big companies and other employers. However, whistleblowers often pay a high price for their commitment to the greater good. They put themselves at risk of retaliation through discrimination to outright termination to being made to endure a hostile work environment.
Fortunately, we have a number of federal laws that are meant to protect, and even reward, employees who report illegal, unsafe, or unethical conditions at the workplace, including the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and the Consumer Financial Protection Act, which provides strong whistleblower protections. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which is part of the United States Department of Labor, handles the whistleblower provisions set forth in a number of different federal laws. In addition, many state laws protect whistleblowers from retaliation, such as the California Whistleblower Protection Act, which applies to both public and private employees.
For your reference, here is a snapshot of some recent whistleblower retaliation cases.
Wells Fargo Ordered to Pay $5.4 million to Former Branch Manager Who Suffered Whistleblower Retaliation.
Wells Fargo N.A. abruptly fired a Los Angeles Wells Fargo branch manager after he reported several incidents of possible bank, mail, and wire fraud by two bankers he supervised. The manager, who never received a poor job evaluation, was unable to find work in banking after Wells Fargo fired him in 2010.
The incident prompted an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). At the conclusion of the investigation, OSHA determined that the manager’s whistleblower activity, protected under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, was a contributing factor in the decision to fire him. Accordingly, in April 2017, OSHA ordered (i) the manager’s job reinstated, (ii) his personnel file cleared, and (iii) full compensation for back pay, compensatory damages, and attorneys’ fees. The amount owed to the former manager was approximately $5.4 million. Wells Fargo may appeal. An appeal, however, does not stay enforcement of the OSHA order.
In Another Wells Fargo Case, the Bank Is Ordered To Pay $577,000 to Another Former Branch Manager for Wrongful Termination
A former branch manager in a southern California branch of Wells Fargo reported to her superiors that some of the bank’s private bankers were opening customer accounts and enrolling customers in bank products without the customer’s knowledge or consent. Rather than address the problems that the whistleblower brought to its attention, Wells Fargo fired the branch manager for reporting the violations.
OSHA investigated the case and concluded that Wells Fargo retaliated against the branch manager. OSHA ordered Wells Fargo to compensate her for back pay, compensatory damages, and attorneys’ fees, amounting to over $577,000.
$10.9 Million Jury Verdict For a City of Boston Employee Who Suffered Discrimination After Complaining About Disparate Treatment.
Ms. Chantal Charles, who is African-American and Haitian, filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination in 2011 based on the behavior of her supervisor. As a result, Charles began receiving negative job evaluations. The supervisor also refused to allow Charles to use her management title, denied overtime pay, flex hours, and other benefits that were provided to other employees who were not African-American or Haitian.
The case ultimately came before a Suffolk Superior Court, and the jury in the case awarded Charles $500,000 for emotional distress, $389,000 in additional pay, and $10 million in punitive damages.
OSHA Orders Amtrak to Pay a Whistleblower Employee $892,000, and Reinstate His Job.
An employee of Amtrak’s inspector general’s office raised concerns about an Amtrak contractor’s ability to do its job in 2010. Specifically, the contractor was hired to test concrete on certain Amtrak tunnel projects, and the Amtrak agent had concerns about fraud and abuse on the part of the contractor. A few months after raising the safety concerns, the Amtrak employee received a negative performance evaluation – his first ever. He was later notified that his position was being eliminated. Then, because he had difficulty finding another position in Amtrak, he was ultimately terminated.
The employee filed a whistleblower case with OSHA. OSHA determined that the employee was a victim of retaliation because he raised safety concerns, and that Amtrak violated his protections under the Federal Railroad Safety Act. OSHA ordered Amtrak to take the following actions: reinstate the employee; and pay him $892,551 for back pay, punitive damages, compensatory damages, and attorneys’ fees and costs.
Health Center Employees Fired For Raising Tuberculosis Concern Compensated in a Consent Judgment.
In Hartford, CT, a health care facility did not adequately respond to a December 2011 tuberculosis exposure. Accordingly, a VP of Operations, the Director of Nursing, and a Program Coordinator worked together to raise the awareness of employees, management, and the public regarding the potential dangers of the exposure. Rather than applaud the three employees for their efforts, the CEO of the health center terminated them.
The subsequent OSHA whistleblower investigation revealed that the health center improperly fired the employees in violation of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. Before the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut, the resulting June 2017 consent judgment stipulated payment of lost wages (approximately $125,000) and neutral letters of reference.
$300,000 of Front Pay and Tuition Reimbursement to Victim of Whistleblower Retaliation.
An employee of Deltek Inc. believed that the company was disputing invoices solely to hide an IT budget shortfall, and that the disputes were otherwise baseless. She was soon terminated from Deltek as a result of her reporting the baseless disputes. The employee filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor.
An Administrative Law Judge at the Dept. of Labor found that the employee was a victim of whistleblowing retaliation in violation of Sarbanes-Oxley. The Judge awarded the employee four years of front pay, and ordered the company to maintain a tuition reimbursement program. The total amount of the award was $330,352. The decision was upheld on administrative appeal, and on appeal to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.
$275,000 of Back and Front Pay to a Whistleblower Pipefitter at John Deere & Co.
A pipefitter employed by John Deere & Co. reported unsafe working conditions at a John Deere plant. When no action was taken, the pipefitter filed a complaint with OSHA. The company then terminated the pipefitter.
John Deere ultimately settled with OSHA, and agreed to provide back pay in the amount of $204,315, and front pay damages in the amount of $70,685.