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Do words in section title strictly limit Sarbanes-Oxley relief?

The English language is not as easily understood as some people may think. The grammatical rules that give sentences meaning are detailed and complicated. The choice of a word or the placement of a comma can change the meaning of a sentence entirely.

Take the common example of the phrase “Let’s eat, mom.” Then compare it to “Let’s eat mom.” In the first, the child is telling the mom that they should eat. In the second, the child is suggesting that they actually eat mom. It is nuances in written legislation that are often argued over in court. A recent whistleblower case involved the choice of words used in the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, and the ruling could mean relief or no relief.

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act was put in place to help prevent scams, like the one involving Enron, from occurring. This act is intended to protect investors, but in order to do so, there needs to be a free flow of information about illegal activities reported by employees without the fear of retaliation.

Section 1514A of this act prohibits employers from retaliating against employees that report fraudulent activity, but who is included in the definition of employee? This is the issue that the recent case turned on. Section 806 is a subset of this broader retaliation protection, and it is titled “Whistleblower Protection for Employees of Publicly Traded Companies.”

Does the title refer to only direct employees of only a publicly traded company? The employer in this case argued that the protections couldn’t be extended to the two whistleblowers that were technically privately held contractors.

The Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the protection provided is not so limited by the title. The protection of this section applies to “whistleblower employees of private contractors and subcontractors, not just of public companies,” as written by Courthouse News Service.

Employees that suffer retaliation such as wrongful termination or other adverse employment actions in Burlington and surrounding areas should consult with an experienced employment law attorney. A thorough understanding of the language in the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and other state or federal laws that protect employees is important in these cases.

Source: Courthouse News Service, “Supreme Court Extends Whistleblower Protection,” Annie Youderian, March 4, 2014

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