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Maryland District Court Dismisses SOX and Dodd Frank Whistleblower Claims

On March 1, 2017, the District of Maryland dismissed a Dodd Frank whistleblower retaliation claim because the plaintiff failed to allege that he had complained directly to the SEC about a violation of securities laws, and dismissed the plaintiff’s SOX whistleblower retaliation claim because the complaint did not allege that the employer was a publically traded company.  Olekanma v. Wolfe, No. 15-0984 (D. Md. March 1, 2017).

Background

Samuel Olekanma, a corrections officer with the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, complained internally about, among other things, alleged racketeering, extortion, and sexual harassment, and asserted that he was retaliated against for making those complaints.  Plaintiff filed a complaint asserting whistleblower retaliation claims under SOX and Dodd Frank.  Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint.

Ruling

The court granted Defendants’ motion to dismiss the SOX and Dodd Frank whistleblowing claims.  First, citing to the Fifth Circuit’s decision in Asadi v. G.E. Energy (USA), LLC, 720 F.3d 620 (5th Cir. 2013) (we have blogged about the Asadi decision and whether internal complaints are covered by Dodd Frank’s anti-retaliation protections, including here and here), the court dismissed the Dodd Frank claim because Plaintiff failed to allege that he had reported information relating to a violation of securities laws directly to the SEC.  The court also dismissed Plaintiff’s SOX claim because he failed to allege that his employer – a state agency – was a publically traded company.

Implications

Who qualifies as a Dodd Frank “whistleblower” continues to be a divisive issue amongst district courts.  This is the second district court within the Fourth Circuit to follow Asadi, and while the Fourth Circuit has yet to weigh in on the issue, Olekanma is a welcomed advancement for employers within that Circuit.

© 2019 Proskauer Rose LLP.

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About this Author

Steven J Pearlman, Labor Employment Law Firm, Proskauer Law firm
Partner

Steven Pearlman is a partner in the Labor & Employment Law Department and co-head of the firm's Whistleblowing & Retaliation Group, resident in the Chicago office. Steven’s practice focuses on defending complex employment litigation involving claims of discrimination and harassment, wage-and-hour laws and breaches of restrictive covenants (e.g., non-competition agreements). He has successfully tried cases to verdict before judges and juries in Illinois, Florida and California, and defended what is reported to be the largest Illinois-only class action in the history of the U.S....

312-962-3545
Edward C. Young, Proskauer Rose, Harassment Lawyer, Labor Rights Attorney
Associate

Edward C. Young is an associate in the Labor & Employment Law Department. He represents companies nationwide in a broad range of employment issues, including discrimination, retaliation and harassment claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the Family Medical Leave Act, as well as other federal and state employment statutes and various common law torts. In addition, Eddie represents employers in trade secret matters and challenges to the independent contractor status of workers.

Prior to attending law school, Eddie earned his master’s degree in Human Resources and Industrial Relations from Loyola University while working for more than three years in the corporate human resources department of a national professional services firm. Eddie also served as a Coles Fellow with the Illinois Human Rights Commission.

Eddie is a co-author of “Discrimination Law Basics,” which was presented at the Practicing Law Institute’s Understanding Employment Law Conference in 2014. 

312-962-3595