TikTok Race Discrimination, Hostile Work Environment and Wrongful Termination

TikTok employees alleging race discrimination, lawyers Helmer Friedman LLP Los Angeles CA.

Have you, or someone you know, experienced racial discrimination at TikTok? You’re not alone. Several former employees have claimed that they were victims of racial prejudice, being subjected to unfair treatment and a hostile work environment.

For instance, former workers Nnete Matima and Joël Carter have filed a federal lawsuit, alleging that they were treated less favorably than their white counterparts. They were allegedly referred to with insulting racial slurs such as “Black Snake”, and faced retaliation, culminating in unfair termination, when they raised this issue to human resources.

These instances are not just damaging to the morale of employees, but they are also illegal. It’s important to remember that TikTok, like all employers, claims to value diversity and has policies against racial discrimination and harassment. Yet, if the reality of your workplace tells a different story, please don’t be silent.

If you or someone you know have encountered similar experiences of racial discrimination, particularly involving unequal treatment, derogatory comments, or the encounter of a hostile work environment, it’s crucial to take the next step. Seek out the advisement of a reputable lawyer who specializes in race discrimination cases. Let’s ensure that your rights are protected and such instances are brought to light.

Bako Pays $50,000 Pregnancy Discrimination and Retaliation

Pregnancy discrimination lawyers Beverly Hills Helmer Friedman LLP.

Pregnancy discrimination laws provide robust protection for employees, defending them against termination due to pregnancy-related complications. This legal safety net was highlighted in the recent case with Bakotic Pathology Associates, LLC (Bako), which was involved in a lawsuit over allegations of pregnancy discrimination and retaliation. The lawsuit, presented by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), asserted that Bako unfairly treated an employee suffering from pregnancy-related ailments.

Bako terminated the employee during her authorized medical leave and while she was availing short-term disability benefits, following her reports of pregnancy discrimination. This alleged behavior contravenes Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that explicitly forbids sex-based discrimination and retaliation for participation in protected activities.

As a result of the lawsuit, Bako agreed to a settlement involving a $50,000 payment and the implementation of remedies. Additionally, Bako is now obligated to provide its employees with specialized training on Title VII, share internal complaint procedures and Title VII policies with the workforce, and report any pregnancy discrimination complaints to the EEOC.

Specific situations that would constitute pregnancy discrimination and/or retaliation include:

  • An employer refusing to accommodate reasonable requests made for pregnancy-related conditions, especially when such accommodations are provided for other employees with different medical conditions.
  • Openly demoting, reducing the hours, or offering lower pay to an employee upon learning of her pregnancy, under the guise of unrelated performance issues.
  • Dismissal of a pregnant employee using the pretext of organizational restructuring, when in reality, the position remains open or is quickly filled by someone not pregnant.
  • Subjecting a pregnant employee to frequent, unwarranted disciplinary actions following the announcement of her pregnancy, suggesting a motive grounded in discrimination rather than actual performance issues.
  • Failing to reinstate an employee to her original or equivalent position after returning from maternity leave, which is guaranteed under certain conditions by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
  • Retaliating against an employee for filing a complaint regarding pregnancy discrimination or for participating in an investigation about such allegations, often seen through sudden negative performance reviews or exclusion from meetings and company events.

For more information on pregnancy discrimination, visit the www.HelmerFriedman.com website or reach out through 1-310-396-7714 or info@HelmerFriedman.com. Ensure your rights are protected.

Racial Discrimination, Harassment at Electric Boat Company

Your workplace should be free of discrimination and harassment. Contact the attorneys of Helmer Friedman LLP for information.

Imagine a workplace where your skills, experience, and professionalism can thrive without fear of racial discrimination or harassment. Sadly, for John Mack – an African-American man – this was just a dream. The reality, as alleged in a recent lawsuit, reveals a disturbing picture of racial discrimination within the Electric Boat Company.

Hired as a Structural Nuclear Welder by Riley Power Group (RPG) to work at Electric Boat, Mack performed his duties diligently and competently, receiving positive reviews about his work. Tragically, his experience soured as he began to face a hostile working environment, racial discrimination, and a series of assaults by a white supervisor.

What makes Mack’s story more shocking is the response when he reported these incidents. A human resources professional allegedly requested that he not file a police report, promising that Electric Boat would handle the matter internally.

Not only did this fail to bring any substantive disciplinary action against the perpetrator, but Mack also faced another racial incident involving a safety officer who made several racist comments about African-Americans. Yet again, despite reporting the incident, there was no significant disciplinary action.

The law is clear. The Rhode Island Civil Rights Act, the Rhode Island Whistleblower Protection Act, and the Fair Employment Practice Act prohibit discrimination and retaliation and protect employees against racial discrimination in the workplace. Mack bravely came forward to ensure that his rights and those of his coworkers are respected – and so can you.

Every employee deserves a safe, respectful, and equal work environment. Discrimination or harassment at work is not only damaging to individual rights, dignity, and sense of worth but also undermines the potential for businesses to enjoy a diverse, dynamic, and creative team.

If you experience or witness racial discrimination or harassment at work, know that you’re protected by law. Protect your rights. Take a stand. Speak out against racial discrimination, and together, let’s make our workplaces truly equitable and inclusive.

Age Discrimination in the Workplace: Protecting Older Adults

Age discrimination is illegal, intentionally inflicts emotional distress. Contact the Age Discrimination Lawyers Helmer Friedman LLP for help.

In the modern workplace, diversity and inclusion have assumed paramount importance, and rightly so. As an HR professional, a mature employee, or a seasoned job seeker, it’s crucial to understand the laws and protections in place to combat ageism. With the rise in remote work and a concerted effort to create equitable work environments, age discrimination is more relevant than ever. Here, we explore how laws safeguard employees over 40, share significant age discrimination cases, and discuss the impact on mature workers and job seekers. We also provide strategies for HR professionals to prevent ageism and promote a more inclusive workforce.

Age Discrimination Laws: Know Your Rights

The ADEA in Context: An Essential Guide

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) is a civil rights law that protects workers and job applicants 40 or older from employment discrimination based on age. The ADEA applies to employers with 20 or more employees, labor organizations, employment agencies, and the federal government. It explicitly prohibits age discrimination in hiring, promotions, discharge, compensation, terms, conditions, and privileges of employment.

Notable Cases: Justice Prevails

Several high-profile cases have highlighted the prevalence of age discrimination and the legal recourse available. Organizations like J&M Industries and Pete’s Car Smart have been held accountable for wrongful terminations and discriminatory practices. In another instance, Scripps Clinical Medical Group faced the brunt of legal action after imposing a mandatory retirement age, thereby sidelining skilled professionals from the workforce.

$1,643,000.00 Arbitration Award Age Discrimination Case Mr. Greg Helmer of Helmer Friedman LLP obtained an award on behalf of an employee who had been discriminated against and harassed because of his age. At the time, the landmark arbitration award was reputed to be one of the largest ever received by an individual in a discrimination case. Needles v. 1928 Jewelry, Ltd., Mel Bernie & Co., et al.

Enlightening Settlements: A Financial Overview

J&M Industries: A Case Study in Age Discrimination

In a striking example of age discrimination, J&M Industries came under legal scrutiny for terminating an employee based on age, leading to a settlement of $105,000 with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). As the employee neared her 65th birthday, management began questioning her retirement plans, which the employee declined, expressing her intent to continue working. Despite her clear communication, J&M Industries dismissed her, citing economic reasons and claiming her purchasing agent position was eliminated. However, this assertion was quickly undermined when, less than a month after her dismissal, a much younger male in his thirties was hired for the purportedly eliminated purchasing agent role—clear evidence that prompted the EEOC to take action.

Pete’s Car Smart: A Case of Costly Discrimination

In a definitive ageism case, Pete’s Car Smart faced legal consequences when they terminated an employee who had devoted 18 years to the company following a brief medical leave. The abrupt dismissal occurred despite years of dedicated service and was, as the courts found, a direct result of age discrimination. To resolve the suit filed under the ADEA, Pete’s Car Smart agreed to a settlement of $145,000, a costly reminder of the legal and moral imperative to uphold anti-discrimination practices in the workplace. The case has since been a touchstone in discussions about the rights of older employees and the need for vigilance against such prejudices in employment decisions.

Scripps Clinical Medical Group: An Expensive Lesson in Equality

Scripps Clinical Medical Group agreed to a substantial settlement of $6.875 million in a significant ruling that sent ripples throughout the healthcare industry. The settlement came in response to a charge of age and disability discrimination filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The medical group had enforced a mandatory retirement policy that required physicians to retire at a certain age, overlooking their actual capability to perform their duties. This blanket policy disregarded individual qualifications and abilities, effectively discriminating against a class of physicians solely based on age and, in some cases, disability. The hefty settlement marks one of the most notable resolutions in the healthcare sector and emphasizes the costly consequences of disregarding federal non-discrimination laws.

The Impact of Age Discrimination on Mature Employees

Stalled Career Progression and Unemployment

Age discrimination can significantly impede a mature employee’s career path. The lack of promotions and lay-offs due to age can disrupt a lifetime of work and dedication to an organization. Sadly, many employees find themselves unexpectedly unemployed with limited prospects for re-employment.

The Psychological Toll

Job insecurity and the perceived value placed on youth can lead to severe psychological stress, anxiety, and a sense of identity crisis among mature employees. These psychological effects not only impact individual employees but can also decrease workplace morale and job satisfaction.

Challenges Faced by Mature Job Seekers

Overcoming Age-Related Barriers

For job seekers over 40, the path to employment is rife with age-related hurdles. Some employers hold onto the stereotype that older workers are less adaptable to technology, less productive, or more expensive, leading to difficulties securing new employment opportunities.

Dispelling Misconceptions

Educating employers and challenging misconceptions about older workers is vital. Experience, wisdom, and loyalty are just a few of the many assets that older job seekers bring. It is vital to shift the narrative from one of burden to one of value and contribution.

The Role of HR Professionals in Combatting Ageism

Proactive Prevention Strategies

HR professionals are pivotal in creating a workplace culture that celebrates age diversity. By implementing policies that promote equal opportunities and fair treatment, they can set the standard for inclusiveness within the organization.

Training and Initiatives

Regular training on anti-discrimination laws coupled with diversity initiatives can help sensitize the workforce and prevent discriminatory practices. By fostering an environment where every employee feels valued, HR professionals can actively work to eliminate ageism.

Conclusion: A Call for Inclusivity

In conclusion, age discrimination is a serious issue that demands our attention. Employers and employees must advocate for inclusivity, respect, and fairness in the workplace. By understanding the laws, sharing in the victories of significant cases, and being cognizant of mature workers’ challenges, we can collectively work towards a future where age does not dictate professional worth. It is only through these collective efforts that we can create a workplace that is truly equitable and representative of the diverse talent pool available to us.

It is also important to note that age discrimination is a complex issue that may require legal intervention. If you or someone you know has been a victim of age discrimination, consider seeking legal advice from an experienced employment lawyer of Helmer Friedman LLP Age Discrimination Lawyers in Los Angeles. Together, we can help ensure that no one loses their job due to age.

Navigating the ADA: A Beacon of Protection Against Disability Discrimination

Disability discrimination laws protect blind employees accommodations for service dogs. Helmer Friedman LLP vigorously protects the rights of all employees.

In a recent string of landmark settlements, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has proven, once again, its indispensable role in the fight against workplace discrimination. Notably, these cases underscore the reality that despite being over three decades old, the ADA remains a critical shield for employees against unfair treatment based on disabilities.

Unpacking Recent Settlements

Among the headline-grabbing decisions, three cases stand out for their implications and the sizeable financial repercussions for the offending employers:

  • Tech Mahindra (Americas), Inc. found itself at the wrong end of a legal battle when the Western District of New York ruled against it, resulting in a $255,000 settlement (EEOC v. Tech Mahindra (Americas), Inc., 6:23-cv-06397). This case serves as a stark reminder that disability discrimination can not only tarnish a company’s reputation but also lead to significant financial losses.
     
  • Pete’s Car Smart, in Civil Action No. 2:23-cv-00092-Z-BR, was ordered to pay $145,000 following allegations of ADA violations. This litigation spotlights the importance of equitable treatment in all aspects of employment, from hiring to day-to-day job functions.
     
  • Perhaps most notably, McLane/Eastern, Inc. d/b/a McLane Northeast faced a whopping $1,675,000 settlement (EEOC v. McLane/Eastern, Inc. d/b/a McLane Northeast, Civil Action No. 5:20-cv-01628-BKS-ML). This settlement underscores the extensive reach of the ADA and serves as a cautionary tale to employers across industries about the severe consequences of non-compliance.
     

Understanding ADA Protections

Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 is more than just a statute; it’s a declaration of fairness and equality. The ADA sets forth clear guidelines that protect individuals with disabilities from discriminatory practices, including but not limited to job application procedures, hiring, termination, compensation, and advancement.

For qualified individuals, this means an equitable chance at not just securing employment but prospering within their chosen field without fear of discrimination due to their disabilities. The legislation mandates reasonable accommodations, ensuring that the work environment adapts to the needs of the employee, not vice versa.

The Implications for Employers and Employees

These recent settlements tell a dual narrative of caution and empowerment. For employers, they represent a clarion call to revisit and, if necessary, overhaul internal policies, ensuring they align with ADA standards. Ignorance, intentional or otherwise, leads to costly legal entanglements with profound financial and reputational damage.

For employees, these cases reinforce the ADA’s role as a vigilant protector of rights. They offer a semblance of reassurance that injustices do not go unchecked and that the legal system can and will hold employers accountable for discrimination.

Moving Forward: An Advocacy for Compliance and Awareness

The ADA’s clear stance on discrimination forms the bedrock upon which employees can stand firm, demanding fair treatment and equal opportunities. Moreover, these court cases should not just be viewed through the lens of legal precedents; they are also critical learning opportunities for both employers and employees.

Employers must view ADA compliance not as a checklist but as a fundamental aspect of organizational culture that champions diversity and inclusion. For employees, awareness of these protections equips them with the knowledge to navigate and challenge discriminatory practices confidently.

In the ongoing journey toward workplace equality, the ADA remains a powerful force. However, it’s not just about adherence to the law; it’s about cultivating an environment where every employee, regardless of disability, can thrive. As these recent settlements highlight, when it comes to protecting the rights and dignity of employees with disabilities, the ADA is not just a shield; it’s a beacon guiding the way toward a more inclusive and equitable workplace.

Racial Harassment, Retaliation Lawsuit Settled for $105,000.

Helmer Friedman LLP protecting employee right to worplace free of racial harassment. Affordable Home Furnishings sued for racial discrimination.

Standing Up Against Workplace Racial Harassment: The Fight for Justice and Equality

Rise above the tide and stand against racial harassment in the workplace! Every individual has the right to a professional environment free from any form of racial discrimination. The lawsuit against Affordable Home Furnishings, where justice was served to an employee who faced racial harassment, serves as a profound testament to this belief.

The incident unfolded in their Florida Boulevard store where a white account manager racially harassed repeatedly using the word “n****r” while working with an African American manager-in-training. This deplorable act, followed by the inappropriate retaliatory firing of the manager-in-training for reporting the incident, was a gross violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Fearlessly, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) spearheaded the fight for justice. The result – a consent decree that ensured Affordable Home Furnishings paid $105,000 in back pay and damages to the former employee. Further measures included the company implementing training requirements, revising policies, setting up a complaint hotline, providing regular reports to the EEOC, as well as posting a notice affirming their commitment to Title VII.

The EEOC’s stand against racial harassment sends a powerful message to America at large – racial harassment and discrimination have no place in our workplaces. Federal and state laws are steadfast protectors of every employee’s right to a harassment-free work environment. To learn more about the laws prohibiting race discrimination and retaliation, visit www.HelmerFriedman.com.

Remember, together we can build a future fueled by respect, understanding, and racial harmony. Each one of us carries the flame that can light up the darkness of racial discrimination. Let’s stop racial harassment in the workplace, today and every day.

Pasadena Officer’s Case Highlights Importance of Whistleblower and Anti-Discrimination Protections

Constitutional rights lawyers of Helmer Friedman LLP.

In an age where increased scrutiny is being directed toward police conduct, we must remind ourselves of the protections officers who blow the whistle on inappropriate behavior within their departments can count on. A recent case involving Officer Taisyn Crutchfield from the Pasadena Police Department exemplifies this.

Officer Taisyn Crutchfield, a Black officer, has lodged a claim against the City of Pasadena, alleging retaliation, discrimination, and harassment. This claim came after Crutchfield attempted to de-escalate a tense situation involving another officer and the son of a man killed by Sheriff deputies. Such a case invariably highlights the robust protections for individuals in such situations.

“She’s doing the right thing, she doesn’t believe in a code of silence. She doesn’t believe in circling the wagons,” attorney Bradley Gage said. “She believes in integrity, honesty and safety.”

Attorneys Bradley C. Gage and Ben Crump cite laws protecting law enforcement officers like Officer Crutchfield from retaliation and discriminatory treatment. These include the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), the Peace Officer Bill of Rights, the Bane Act, and the Ralph Act.

The Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) protects employees from discrimination, harassment, and retaliation in employment because of race, color, ancestry, national origin, and other characteristics. Officer Crutchfield’s experience, if proven accurate, represents a clear violation of this Act.

The Peace Officer Bill of Rights Act (POBAR) ensures that officers are afforded their constitutional right to fair treatment. Officer Crutchfield’s allegation raises questions about whether her rights under POBAR were violated when she was placed on administrative leave following her intervention in the incident above.

Crutchfield was placed on paid administrative leave for six months after being sent back to the department, claiming that she was never given any reason for her punishment.

The Bane Act, also known as The Tom Bane Civil Rights Act, protects from threats, intimidation, coercion, or attempts to interfere with someone’s state or federal statutory or constitutional rights. The Ralph Act also protects individuals from violence or threats of violence based on their race or ethnicity.

It’s crucial to remember that these laws work in combination to provide comprehensive protection to law enforcement officers. They allow officers to carry out their duties without fear of reprisal while also demanding an environment free from harassment and discrimination.

While the City of Pasadena has characterized the claim as inaccurate and pledged to contest the allegations, the incident serves as a potent reminder of the importance of these protective laws. Regardless of the outcome, it underscores how essential it is for law enforcement agencies to uphold these protections and ensure a fair, safe, and tolerant working environment for their officers.

Only through an unwavering commitment to these protections can we continue to build trust and integrity within our police forces and their relationships with the communities they serve.

Thurgood Marshall

Black History Month - Helmer Friedman LLP.

Thurgood Marshall made immeasurable strides for the civil rights movement during his lifetime.

Working under his mentor and well-known civil rights icon Charles Hamilton Houston at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Marshall successfully argued Brown v. Board of Education which famously declared unconstitutional the “separate but equal” doctrine.

In 1965, Marshall became the first black person appointed to the post of U.S. Solicitor General. Two years later, he became the first black person appointed to the United States Supreme Court, where he served until 1991.

Whistleblower Suing Under Sarbanes-Oxley Act Need Not Prove Their Employer Acted With “Retaliatory Intent” 

Helping Employees Recover and Enforcing Employment Laws Helmer Friedman LLP.

U.S. Supreme Court Holds That Whistleblower Suing Under Sarbanes-Oxley Act Need Not Prove Their Employer Acted With “Retaliatory Intent”

On February 8, 2024, in Murray v. UBS Securities, LLC, 2024 WL 478566 (U.S., 2024) the U.S. Supreme Court held, in a unanimous decision authored by Justice Sotomayor, that a whistleblower seeking to invoke the protections of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act need not prove that their employer acted with “retaliatory intent.” Instead, the whistleblower needs to merely show that their protected activity was a contributing factor in the employer’s unfavorable personnel action.

Before discussing the details of the case, it is important to note that Murray continues an important and surprising trend at a Supreme Court (stocked with far right-wing conservative Justices) that is generally hostile to the rights of employees and consumers – it, almost uniformly, sides with employees in retaliation cases. So, as the following list demonstrates, the Supreme Court has sided with employees in 10 out of the last 13 cases stretching back nearly 20 years:

  • Murray v. UBS Securities, LLC, 2024 WL 478566 (2024)(siding with employee)
  • Digital Realty Trust, Inc. v. Somers, 583 U.S. 149 (2018)(siding with employer)
  • Artis v. District of Columbia, 583 U.S. 71 (2018)(siding with employee)
  • Green v. Brennan, 578 U.S. 547 (2016)(siding with employee)
  • Heffernan v. City of Paterson, N.J., 578 U.S. 266 (2016)(siding with employee)
  • Department of Homeland Sec. v. MacLean, 574 U.S. 383 (2015)(siding with employer)
  • Lane v. Franks, 573 U.S. 228 (2014)(siding with employee)
  • Lawson v. FMR LLC, 571 U.S. 429 (2014)(siding with employee}
  • University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar, 570 U.S. 338 (2013)(siding with employer)
  • Thompson v. North American Stainless, LP, 562 U.S. 170 (2011)(siding with employee)
  • Kasten v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corp., 563 U.S. 1 (2011)(siding with employee)
  • Staub v. Proctor Hosp., 562 U.S. 411 (2011)(siding with employee)
  • Crawford v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson Cnty., Tenn., 555 U.S. 271 (2009)(siding with employee)
  • Gomez-Perez v. Potter, 553 U.S. 474 (2008)(siding with employee)
  • Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. White, 548 U.S. 53 (2006)(siding with employee)

In Murray, the plaintiff, Trevor Murray, was employed as a research strategist at the UBS securities firm, within the firm’s commercial mortgage-backed securities (CMBS) business. In that role, Murray was responsible for reporting on CMBS markets to current and future UBS customers. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) regulations required him to certify that his reports were produced independently and accurately reflected his own views. Murray alleged that, despite this requirement of independence, two leaders of the CMBS trading desk improperly pressured him to skew his reports to be more supportive of their business strategies, even instructing Murray to “clear [his] research articles with the desk” before publishing them.

Murray reported that conduct to his direct supervisor, Michael Schumacher asserting that it was “unethical” and “illegal.” Schumacher expressed sympathy for Murray’s situation but emphasized that it was “very important” that Murray not “alienate [his] internal client” (i.e., the trading desk). When Murray later informed Schumacher that the situation with the trading desk “was bad and getting worse,” as he was being left out of meetings and subjected to “constant efforts to skew [his] research,” Schumacher told him that he should just “write what the business line wanted.” Shortly after that exchange (and despite having given Murray a very strong performance review just a couple months earlier) Schumacher emailed his own supervisor and recommended that Murray “be removed from [UBS’s] head count.” Schumacher recommended in the alternative that, if the CMBS trading desk wanted him, Murray could be transferred to a desk analyst position, where he would not have SEC certification responsibilities. The trading desk declined to accept Murray as a transfer, and UBS fired him.

Murray then filed a complaint with the Department of Labor alleging that his termination violated § 1514A of Sarbanes-Oxley because he was fired in response to his internal reporting about fraud on shareholders. When the agency did not issue a final decision on his complaint within 180 days, Murray filed an action in federal court.

Murray’s claim went to trial. UBS moved for judgment as a matter of law, arguing, among other things, that Murray had “failed to produce any evidence that Schumacher possessed any sort of retaliatory animus toward him.” The District Court denied the motion.

The District Court instructed the jury that, in order to prove his § 1514A claim, Murray needed to establish four elements: (1) that he engaged in whistleblowing activity protected by Sarbanes-Oxley, (2) that UBS knew that he engaged in the protected activity, (3) that he suffered an adverse employment action (i.e., was fired), and (4) that his “protected activity was a contributing factor in the termination of his employment.” On the last element, the District Court further instructed the jury: “For a protected activity to be a contributing factor, it must have either alone or in combination with other factors tended to affect in any way UBS’s decision to terminate [his] employment.” The court explained that Murray was “not required to prove that his protected activity was the primary motivating factor in his termination, or that … UBS’s articulated reason for his termination was a pretext.” If Murray proved each of the four elements by a preponderance of the evidence, the District Court instructed, the burden would shift to UBS to “demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that it would have terminated [Murray’s] employment even if he had not engaged in protected activity.”

During deliberations, the jury asked for clarification of the contributing-factor instruction. The court responded that the jury “should consider” whether “anyone with th[e] knowledge of [Murray’s] protected activity, because of the protected activity, affect[ed] in any way the decision to terminate [Murray’s] employment.” When the court previewed this response to the parties, UBS indicated that it “would be comfortable” with that formulation.

The jury found that Murray had established his § 1514A claim and that UBS had failed to prove, by clear and convincing evidence, that it would have fired Murray even if he had not engaged in protected activity. The jury also issued an advisory verdict on damages, recommending that Murray receive nearly $1 million.

After the trial, UBS again moved for judgment as a matter of law, which the court denied. The court then adopted the jury’s advisory verdict on damages and awarded an additional $1.769 million in attorney’s fees and costs. UBS appealed the decision, and Murray cross-appealed on the issues of back pay, reinstatement, and attorney’s fees.

The Second Circuit panel vacated the jury’s verdict and remanded for a new trial. The court identified the central question as “whether the Sarbanes-Oxley Act’s antiretaliation provision requires a whistleblower-employee to prove retaliatory intent,” and, contrary to the trial court, it concluded that the answer was yes.

On appeal, the Supreme Court reversed the finding that Sarbanes-Oxley Act’s antiretaliation provision does not require that a whistleblower-employee prove retaliatory intent on the part of his or her employer:

The Second Circuit’s opinion requiring whistleblowers to prove retaliatory intent placed that Circuit in direct conflict with the Fifth and Ninth Circuits, which had rejected any such requirement for § 1514A claims. This Court granted certiorari to resolve this disagreement.

Section 1514A’s text does not reference or include a “retaliatory intent” requirement, and the provision’s mandatory burden-shifting framework cannot be squared with such a requirement. While a whistleblower bringing a § 1514A claim must prove that his protected activity was a contributing factor in the unfavorable personnel action, he need not also prove that his employer acted with “retaliatory intent.”

The Second Circuit and UBS both rely heavily on the word “discriminate” in § 1514A to impose a “retaliatory intent” requirement on whistleblower plaintiffs. As UBS acknowledges, the Second Circuit’s holding was “expressly predicated” on the word “discriminate.” That word, however, cannot bear the weight that both the Second Circuit and UBS place on it.

Consider the statutory text: No employer subject to Sarbanes-Oxley “may discharge, demote, suspend, threaten, harass, or in any other manner discriminate against an employee in the terms and conditions of employment because of ” the employee’s protected whistleblowing activity. § 1514A(a). To start, the placement of the word “discriminate” in the section’s catchall provision suggests that it is meant to capture other adverse employment actions that are not specifically listed, drawing meaning from the terms “discharge, demote, suspend, threaten, [and] harass” rather than imbuing those terms with a new or different meaning. Here, there is no dispute that Murray was “discharge[d],” and so it is not obvious that the “or in any other manner discriminate” clause has any relevance to his claim. According to UBS, though, “discriminate” in the catchall provision relates back to and characterizes “discharge,” such that “to be actionable, discharge must be a ‘manner’ of discriminating.” Accepting this statutory construction argument “for argument’s sake,” as this Court did in Bostock v. Clayton County, 590 U. S. 644, 657 (2020), the question is whether the word “discriminate” inherently requires retaliatory intent. It does not.

An animus-like “retaliatory intent” requirement is simply absent from the definition of the word “discriminate.” 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. 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 SEC reporting requirements.

Murray v. UBS Securities, LLC, 2024 WL 478566, *6-8 (U.S., 2024)(cleaned up).

Thankfully, the Supreme Court’s Murray decision will lower the arbitrarily high “retaliatory animus” hurdle that some courts have previously required employees to overcome in order to prevail on their Sarbanes-Oxley retaliation claim.

Charlotte E. Ray

Black History Month - Helmer Friedman LLP.

In 1872, Charlotte Ray became the first black female attorney in the United States. She was active in the NAACP and the suffragist movement.

Fun fact: she applied to and was admitted to Howard University Law School under the name “C. E. Ray,” in a possible attempt to hide her gender. #BlackHistoryMonth