Supreme Court Upholds Corporate Whistleblower Protections in Landmark Ruling
Thursday, February 8, 2024

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling holding that whistleblowers do not need to prove that their employer acted with “retaliatory intent” to be protected under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX). The decision in the case, Murray v. UBS Securities, LLC, has immense implications for a number of whistleblower protection laws.

“This is a major win for whistleblowers and thus a huge win for corporate accountability,” said leading whistleblower attorney David Colapinto, a founding partner of Kohn, Kohn & Colapinto.

“A ruling in favor of UBS would have overturned more than 20 years of precedent in SOX whistleblower cases and made it exceedingly more difficult for whistleblowers who claim retaliation under many similarly worded federal whistleblower statutes,” Colapinto continued.

“Thankfully, the Court was not swayed by UBS’ attempt to ignore the plain meaning of the statute and instead upheld the burden of proof that Congress enacted to protect whistleblowers who face retaliation,” added Colapinto.

In an amicus curiae brief filed in the case on behalf of the National Whistleblower Center, the founding partners of Kohn, Kohn & Colapinto outlined the Congressional intent behind the burden of proof standard in SOX.

“In crafting the unique ‘contributing factor’ test for whistleblowers, Congress left an incredibly straight-forward legislative history documenting the value of whistleblowers’ contributions, the risks and retaliation whistleblowers faced, the barriers the previous burden of proof presented for whistleblowers, and Congress’ explicit intention to lower that burden of proof for whistleblowers,” the brief states.

In the Court’s opinion, Justice Sonia Sotomayor likewise pointed to the Congressional intent of SOX’s contributing-factor burden of proof standard:

“To be sure, the contributing-factor framework that Congress chose here is not as protective of employers as a motivating-factor framework. That is by design. Congress has employed the contributing-factor framework in contexts where the health, safety, or well-being of the public may well depend on whistleblowers feeling empowered to come forward. This Court cannot override that policy choice by giving employers more protection than the statute itself provides.”

This article was authored by Geoff Schweller.

 

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