The U.S. Supreme Court has found that a whistleblower is entitled to protection from retaliation under federal law, and not required to show proof or intent from their employers. The Court ruled in favor of whistleblower Trevor Murphy who was awarded $900K in a jury verdict in 2017 after his employer, UBS, unlawfully fired him. The ruling was unanimous.
SEC whistleblower attorney Scott Silver commented “This landmark Supreme Court decision will bolster whistleblower rights and protect whistleblower’s from retaliation in the workplace.”
The justices then rejected UBS’s claim that Murray was required to show retaliatory intent for whistleblower protection under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. This act is the law that governs corporate financial reporting and recordkeeping.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote on behalf of the unanimous court, “Showing that an employer acted with retaliatory animus is one way of proving that the protected activity was a contributing factor in the adverse employment action, but it is not the only way.” The court reversed and remanded the case.
Murray’s case stems from his unlawful termination after refusing to change his research on commercial mortgage-backed securities. As a research strategist for UBS, he was required to certify that his reports to the firm’s customers about their securities business were “independently produced and reflected his own views.” This certification was in accordance with SEC’s regulations. Murray notified his supervisor that two leaders from the UBS trading desk were engaging in what he believed were “unethical and illegal efforts” to skew his independent reporting. UBS terminated Murray shortly thereafter.
In 2017, Murray won a $903,300 award after a Manhattan jury found his termination was unlawful. But in 2022, the Second Court overturned his award, finding that anyone claiming whistleblower protection under Sarbanes-Oxley needed to show retaliatory intent by their employer in their termination. The Supreme Court disagreed and overturned the Second Court’s ruling in favor of Murray.
In October, Justice Neil Gorsuch stated that he did not see “retaliatory intent” included in the whistleblower provisions of Sarbanes-Oxley, or SOX. The U. S. government also sided with Murray when officials argued that both the Department of Labor and its own administrative review board have previously interpreted Sarbanes-Oxley to have no requirement for whistleblowers to demonstrate intent for retaliation.
The case is Trevor Murray v. UBS Securities LLC et al., case number 22-660, before the Supreme Court of the United States.
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