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Whistleblower Counseling & Defense

As the complexity of whistleblower cases has grown over the past decade, and the interpretation of stringent compliance laws such as Sarbanes-Oxley and Dodd-Frank have occurred, the need for counsel with considerable experience in intricate, high-profile whistleblower matters involving potential financial exposure, bounty provisions, and termination of senior executives becomes essential. While many lawyers understand the law and burdens of proof, Vinson & Elkins team comprises lawyers who grasp the intricacies of the underlying tax, accounting, legal, and personnel management issues of whistleblower cases and how they are interpreted by judges.

Whistleblower cases can harm a company beyond any potential judgment — damaging its brand, reputation, and market capitalization. Because we understand the damage these cases can do to our clients’ businesses, we make every effort to manage exposure under whistleblower protection provisions and federal statutes, including Sarbanes-Oxley, Dodd-Frank, False Claims, Energy Reorganization, and Title VII. Our practice extends beyond responsive action to developing internal compliance procedures, counseling, and preventative training of management teams. We also counsel clients on transferring employees, hiring and re-hiring employees, or negotiating an exit. Because many of these matters involve different disciplines and practices, we tap into our firm’s subject-matter authorities in tax, accounting, international trade, environmental, and safety issues as we investigate internal and external whistleblower complaints or pursue litigation.

When whistleblower issues arise, our clients have relied on our seasoned Whistleblower Counseling and Defense practice to carefully navigate the process. These clients depend on us as trusted advisors with sound and seasoned judgment. Our experience and skill allows us to inspire confidence from the board to senior executive staff, and our team is there for our clients every step of the way.

Experience Highlights

  • In a case that received national media coverage, V&E represented a multi-national energy company in the Department of Labor administrative investigatory and trial stages of a Sarbanes-Oxley whistleblower complaint. The complainant had been employed in a sensitive management role in the company’s finance and accounting department, reporting directly to the chief accounting officer. He contended that the company retaliated against and constructively discharged him by stripping away his most significant duties and isolating him after he reported alleged intentional violations of accounting rules and misreporting of income, amounting to shareholder fraud, to the Securities and Exchange Commission and board of directors. Our client prevailed at the investigatory and trial stages, with the ALJ finding both that the complainant had not been retaliated against and that his continued objections to the company’s accounting practices lost their protection under SOX once those objections had been thoroughly examined and addressed by management

  • Defended a multi-national energy company in a whistleblower retaliation case filed by a former employee who contended that he was discharged because of complaints to company management regarding alleged violations of environmental protection laws, including the Federal Water Pollution Prevention and Control Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Solid Waste Disposal Act. The complainant had been the most senior environmental engineer within the company. After a one week trial, a Department of Labor ALJ ruled for the company, finding that the complainant’s discharge was for reasons separate from his protected activity. Complainant appealed to the DOL Administrative Review Board, which affirmed the ALJ’s decision

  • Conducted internal investigation for international oil and gas exploration company of SOX whistleblower retaliation and civil rights claims involving accounting matters in Morocco and Mozambique; obtained dismissal of claim by OSHA, and resolved all remaining claims

  • Represented a global energy client in a wrongful discharge case in which the claimant, formerly employed as a tax accountant, alleged that she had been discharged in violation of common law, for refusing to participate in and opposing fraudulent practices pertaining to the parent company’s consolidated U.S. tax return. Following a two-week trial, the arbitrator issued an award finding in favor of our client on all issues

  • Defended a major military defense contractor against claims by a former employee that he was retaliated against and ultimately terminated in violation of the False Claims Act for reporting fraud, waste, and abuse. The case was tried in arbitration, resulting in an award in favor of our client on all issues

  • Defended a multi-national energy company in an investigation by the Department of Labor of a whistleblower retaliation complaint under Sarbanes-Oxley filed by a former employee who alleged constructive discharge because he had reported violations of U.S. trade embargo regulations. The complainant alleged that following his report, he had been reassigned from a senior operations management role to a series of much less responsible positions. After investigation, the DOL dismissed the complaint, finding that the complainant had voluntarily resigned his employment

  • Represented several multi-national companies in Department of Labor investigations of Sarbanes-Oxley whistleblower complaints filed by former employees assigned to foreign work locations. Obtained dismissal of the complaint in each case based on our arguments that DOL lacked jurisdiction under SOX to investigate retaliation claims of employees whose work locations are outside the U.S

  • Represented an international transportation and logistics company in a Department of Transportation-Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigation of a Surface Transportation Assistance Act whistleblower complaint in which a former employee alleged he was terminated because he complained to the Department of Homeland Security that the company did not properly secure its facilities and trucks. The complaint resulted in an extensive investigation by the Department of Transportation, at the conclusion of which the complaint was dismissed based upon a finding of no retaliation