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| 1 minute read

Road to Victory Just Got a Little Easier for Whistleblowers

In 2017, a federal jury found whistleblower Trevor Murray was wrongfully terminated after he refused “to change his research on commercial mortgage-backed securities.” He won over $900,000. On appeal in 2022, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit overturned Murray's award, finding whistleblowers who bring a retaliation claim against their employer under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) must prove their employer acted with “retaliatory intent.”  

Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court weighed in, issuing a unanimous decision in Trevor Murray v. UBS Securities LLC, et al. The justices found that the Second Circuit was wrong. That is, “when it comes to a plaintiff's burden of proof on intent under SOX, they only need to show that their protected activity contributed to an unfavorable personnel action, such as a firing.” Once the plaintiff does this, the Supreme Court found the burden of proof shifts to the employer to prove that “it would have taken the same adverse action regardless of the employee's protected activity.” The justices found the law is intended ”to be plaintiff-friendly."  

In light of this development, employers should continue to be diligent in documenting the reasons that lead to an employee's termination. This is especially true if that employee may be found to have engaged in a protected activity, cloaking them with certain whistleblower protections.     

In siding with whistleblower Trevor Murray, the justices rejected UBS' position that a separate finding of retaliatory intent is required for whistleblower protection under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, or SOX, which governs corporate financial reporting and recordkeeping.


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