On Wednesday, the Supreme Court resolved a question that had created significant uncertainty concerning the scope of the anti-retaliation protections provided by Section 922 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (“Dodd-Frank”).
In Digital Realty Trust, Inc. v. Somers, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously rejected the expansive interpretation of Dodd-Frank’s anti-retaliatory protections established by relevant Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) regulations and previously accepted by the Second and Ninth Circuits. In so doing, the Court held that employees who report potential securities law violations internally but not to the SEC fall outside the definition of a “whistleblower” under Dodd-Frank and accordingly do not benefit from its anti-retaliation protections. Instead, the Court held that the plain text and purpose of Dodd-Frank make clear that its anti-retaliatory protections – and not just Dodd-Frank’s whistleblower bounty incentives – apply only to whistleblowers who report securities law violations to the SEC.
The decision provides an additional incentive for whistleblowers to report to the SEC, and limits some remedies that might otherwise be available to whistleblowers who face retaliation. However, the decision should not generally cause companies to change their whistleblower policies and practices.
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