Lawson v. FMR LLC

To safeguard investors and restore trust in financial markets after the Enron collapse, Congress passed the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, which provides that no public company nor any contractor or subcontractor of such a company, may discharge, demote, suspend, threaten, harass, or discriminate against an employee in the terms and conditions of employment because of whistleblowing activity, 18 U. S. C. 1514A(a). Plaintiffs are former employees of FMR, private companies that contract to advise or manage mutual funds. As is common in the industry, those mutual funds are public companies with no employees. Plaintiffs allege that they blew the whistle on putative fraud relating to the mutual funds and suffered retaliation by FMR. FMR argued that the Act protects only employees of public companies, and not employees of private companies that contract with public companies. The district court denied FMR’s motion to dismiss. The First Circuit reversed, concluding that the term “an employee” refers only to employees of public companies. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded, concluding that section 1514A’s whistleblower protection includes employees of a public company’s private contractors and subcontractors. FMR’s interpretation would shrink the protection against retaliation by contractors to insignificance. The Court stated that its reading fits the goal of warding off another Enron debacle; fear of retaliation was the primary deterrent to reporting by the employees of Enron’s contractors. FMR’s reading would insulate the entire mutual fund industry from section 1514A. Virtually all mutual funds are structured to have no employees of their own and are managed, instead, by independent investment advisors. View "Lawson v. FMR LLC" on Justia Law