In a groundbreaking decision, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled today in favor of whistleblower Trevor Murray, dispelling the notion that whistleblowers must prove retaliatory intent to be protected under federal law prohibiting retaliation in the corporate finance space.
The case centered around Murray, a former UBS employee, who fought to reinstate a $900,000 jury verdict he secured in 2017 after being fired for resisting pressure to alter his research on commercial mortgage-backed securities, in violation of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX). SOX regulates corporate financial reporting and recordkeeping and includes an anti-retaliation provision protecting whistleblowers.
The case arrived at the Supreme Court because there was a split in the circuit court of appeals decisions as to whether a whistleblower was required to prove retaliatory to prevail on a SOX retaliation claim. The ruling today clarifies that treating an employee unfavorably due to protected whistleblowing activity violates SOX, regardless of the employer's motivations. The Court held, "When an employer treats someone worse—whether by firing them, demoting them, or imposing some other unfavorable change in the terms and conditions of employment—'because of' the employee's protected whistleblowing activity, the employer violates § 1514A." The Court further found that "it does not matter whether the employer was motivated by retaliatory animus or was motivated, for example, by the belief that the employee might be happier in a position that did not have [U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission] reporting requirements."