Blowing the Whistle Internally Is Not Enough to Be Covered by the Anti-Retaliation Provisions of the Dodd-Frank Act
In February 21, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a much anticipated decision in Digital Realty Trust, Inc. v. Paul Somers that the anti-retaliation protections of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 (the “Dodd-Frank Act”) do not extend to an individual who reports alleged company misconduct only internally without submitting this information to the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”).
Paul Somers worked at Digital Realty Trust, Inc. as a vice president of portfolio management. While employed, he reported possible securities law violations to senior management but never reported this information to the SEC. Mr. Somers’ employment was subsequently terminated. He then sued Digital Realty in federal court accusing the company of violating the Dodd-Frank Act by firing him for complaining internally about alleged violations of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (the “Sarbanes-Oxley Act”). Mr. Sommers never sought relief directly under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. The district court, and then the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, supported Mr. Somers reliance on the SEC’s broad interpretation of the definition of the term “whistleblower” under the Dodd-Frank Act. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with its opinion.
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