Leaks to Media are Not Protected Whistle-blowing under Sarbanes-Oxley

This week, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the whistleblower protection of Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) does not protect leaks to the media. In Tides & Neumann v. The Boeing Company, employees Nicholas Tides and Mathew Neumann served as internal auditors for SOX compliance. They alleged pressure to rate internal SOX controls as “effective,” despite some concerns over some issues and expressed those concerns within the company.

Then, a news reporter knocked on Mr. Neumann’s door. Company policy required referring any media inquiries to Boeing’s communication department. However, Mr. Neumann spoke the reporter and confirmed a draft of what she had written, despite knowing of the news-referral policy.

Mr. Tides contacted the reporter, himself, after receiving his performance evaluation, and provided her information.

Boeing discovered who the “whistleblowers” were and fired them. They filed suit under Sarbanes-Oxley whistleblower provisions.

The Ninth Circuit felt this was an easy case. The SOX whistleblower section protects only disclosures to the following: (A) Federal regulatory or law enforcement agencies, (B) a Congress member or Congressional committee, and (C) the supervisor or other person working for the employer who has authority to deal with the misconduct. The list does not include blowing the whistle to the news media.

Jeff Merrick, Merrick Mediation
Copyright, 2011