In Murray v. UBS Securities, LLC,1 a federal judge in the Southern District of New York recently held that Dodd-Frank’s whistleblower protections can extend to employees who do not qualify as statutory “whistleblowers.” Although federal appellate courts have yet to weigh in, the Murray decision reflects a growing judicial consensus in federal district courts that a company’s internal whistleblowers may be protected from retaliation even if they never report their concerns to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act created a series of new incentives for “whistleblowers” — defined as individuals who provide “information relating to a violation of the securities laws to the [SEC].”2 Among these incentives is a broad anti-retaliation provision that prohibits employers from discharging, demoting, suspending, threatening, harassing, or otherwise discriminating against a “whistleblower” for assisting or sharing information with the SEC — or for “making disclosures that are required or protected” under the securities laws.3
The plaintiff in Murray had worked as a senior strategist for a securities firm, where his duties included preparing reports about mortgage-backed securities for current and potential clients. The plaintiff claimed that he had been fired after complaining to his supervisors about allegedly being pressured to produce false and misleading research reports, in what he believed to be a violation of SEC regulations.4
In support of his claim for unlawful retaliation, the plaintiff invoked Dodd-Frank’s protection for “whistleblowers” who make “disclosures that are required or protected” under the securities laws.5 In response, the defendant filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that because the plaintiff had not made a report to the SEC, he did not qualify as a protected “whistleblower” covered by Dodd-Frank.6