Do whistleblower protection laws allow suits against individuals?

On Behalf of | Mar 23, 2016 | Employee Rights

The thing about law is that it can have loopholes. Lawmakers don’t necessarily intend for them to exist. Sometimes they are created unexpectedly when one law that deals with an issue says one thing and a second law that deals with the same issue says something slightly different. Valid questions get raised and courts in Texas and other parts of the country are asked to deliver answers.

One example of this in play can be seen in two of the key federal laws that are aimed at protecting whistleblowers from being wrongly fired from their jobs. We are referring to the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection acts.

As a review if the issue that appeared a while ago on the Harvard Law School Forum observed, Sarbanes-Oxley’s definition of a whistleblower is “any individual who provides…information relating to a violation of the securities laws to the (Securities and Exchange) Commission.” But anti-retaliation provisions for whistleblowers in Dodd-Frank, which came later, protect individuals who provide information not only to the SEC, but also to law enforcement agencies or anyone with “supervisory authority over the employee.”

Some plaintiffs have used this difference in the laws to expand the scope of legal action to include individual supervisors, not just the employing organization. And in some cases, the courts have ruled that individuals could be held liable for actions taken that are found to be consciously retaliatory.

This does not represent a definitive answer on whether the law does or does not allow suits against individuals, but it does seem to be something of a stake in the ground that moves things in that direction.

That has possible implications for not only federal workers who find themselves wrongly terminated, but also managers who may find themselves named as individuals in some actions. It all depends on the specifics of a given case and those with questions should speak with experienced legal counsel to explore possible outcomes.