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U.S. Department of Labor Appoints Three New Members to the ARB

On January 8, 2019, the DOL announced Secretary Alexander Acosta’s appointment of three new members to the Administrative Review Board (ARB), filling vacancies that had been open for months, and marking the first appointments to the ARB of the Trump Administration.

The ARB issues final agency decisions on behalf of the Secretary of Labor in cases arising under a number of worker protection laws, including the whistleblower-protection provision of SOX. Cases considered by the ARB arise upon appeal from a decision of an ALJ and the parties may appeal the ARB’s decisions to federal district or appellate courts.

All three new appointees were chosen from within the DOL. William Thomas Barto, who will serve as the chair of the ARB, previously served as an Administrative Law Judge for the DOL. James A. Haynes most recently served as an Appellate Administrative Law Judge for the Employees Compensation Appeals Board. Daniel T. Gresh previously worked as an attorney for the ARB. The new members will serve two-year terms. The ARB consists of a maximum of five members and two vacancies still remain open.

The membership of the ARB is significant, as previous boards have issued widely-divergent decisions regarding the scope of the whistleblower protection laws, which have in turn influenced the courts’ interpretation of those laws. For example, in Platone v. FLYi Inc., ARB Case No. 04-154 (Sept. 29, 2006), the Bush-era ARB introduced an employer-friendly standard for a SOX whistleblower complaint, requiring the whistleblower to describe conduct that “definitively and specifically” relates to one of the six categories of unlawful acts set forth in the statute. That standard was adopted by the First, Second, Fourth, Fifth and Ninth Circuits. But, in 2011, the Obama-era ARB abrogated Platone in Sylvester v. Parexel International LLC, No. 07-123 (ARB May 25, 2011), and dramatically lowered the bar for what constitutes “protected activity” under SOX, holding that an employee’s complaint need not “definitively and specifically” relate to an enumerated legal violation, and that complainants only had to show that they reasonably believed the conduct complained about violated one of the laws enumerated in SOX. Federal courts, including the Second, Third, Sixth and Tenth Circuits, subsequently adopted the ARB’s more liberal Sylvester standard.

The ARB has not issued any decisions since July 2018. This more than five-month hiatus is unprecedented since the ARB was established in May 1996, and we expect that the board will issue a flurry of decisions in the coming months as it works through a backlog of cases. Given the new membership of the board, we would not be surprised to see further developments in the ARB’s shifting interpretation of the whistleblower laws.

© 2019 Proskauer Rose LLP.

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About this Author

Lloyd B Chinn, Financial, Whistleblower Attorney, Proskauer Law Firm
Partner

Lloyd B. Chinn is a Partner in the Labor & Employment Law Department and co-head of the Whistleblowing & Retaliation Group. He litigates employment disputes of all types before federal and state courts, arbitration tribunals (e.g., FINRA, JAMS and AAA), and before administrative agencies in New York and across the country. Lloyd's practice ranges from litigating compensation disputes to defending whistleblower, discrimination and sexual harassment claims. Although he represents employers in a wide range of industries, including law, insurance, health care, consulting, media,...

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Pinny Goldberg Labor and Employment Lawyer Proskauer Rose Law Firm
Associate

Pinny Goldberg is an associate in the Labor & Employment Law Department. Pinny represents employers in a broad array of matters before federal and state courts, FINRA and other arbitration panels, and administrative agencies, including the EEOC and its state equivalents, and in pre-litigation negotiations. Matters he works on include discrimination and harassment, wage and hour, wrongful discharge, whistleblowing and retaliation, covenants not to compete, breaches of fiduciary duty, unjust enrichment, and tort and contract claims. 

In addition to handling litigation and dispute resolution, Pinny regularly advises clients on a wide variety of employment issues, including drafting, reviewing and revising handbooks and workplace policies. He also addresses questions and concerns related to hiring, wage and hour issues, employee leave, performance problems, terminations of employment, and separation agreements and releases.

Prior to joining Proskauer, Pinny was a Labor and Employment associate at Seyfarth Shaw LLP. While in law school, he served as an editor for the Cardozo Law Review.

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