It’s tough enough being a whistleblower. In the typical case we see, whistleblowers first try to correct problems internally long before calling a lawyer. Often they are ignored, however. Most employees dislike greed and corruption but few are willing to stand up and report problems. Those that do are frequently ignored. Some are ostracized. Sometimes they even suffer from full blown retaliation. In other words, they are demoted or fired.
And then there is Oracle…
This month’s bad corporate citizenship award just may go to Oracle Corporation, the giant computer technology corporation. Last month Svetlana Blackburn filed a whistleblower retaliation lawsuit against Oracle. She claims the company fired her after she refused to pad sales figures from Oracle’s cloud computing operation. As a CPA, Blackburn ought to know what she is talking about.
Blackburn worked for Oracle for less than a year. But she says she was there long enough to figure out that senior Oracle executives were cooking the books.
As late as August of 2015 Blackburn says she received a positive performance evaluation. That quickly changed, however, after she complained to senior management that the company had “veered from legal, ethical and company standards.” Her complaint says that she warned her boss that she would not look the other way at Oracle’s accounting improprieties. In her words, “I will blow the whistle if ordered to proceed further in this fashion.”
Almost immediately after complaining, Blackburn says she suffered retaliation. On October 15th she was fired.
Whistleblower retaliation is against the law in the United States. Both the SEC whistleblower program and the federal False Claims Act have robust anti-retaliation provisions. Normally, the lawyers take over and either the retaliation claims are settled or there is a trial. Depending on the retaliation law at play, the injured worker can receive double damages including back and front pay or reinstatement. Most workers don’t want to go back so most cases settle for some type of lump sum payoff.
Oracle took retaliation to the next level. They announced they are suing Blackburn!
Why Companies Engage in Retaliation
Why would a company with $110,900,000,000.00 in assets and over 135,000 employees sue a woman who worked there for less than a year? They certainly can’t collect anything.
The answer is to make an example out of Svetlana and discourage every other employee who knows of wrongdoing from coming forward. Most big companies suck it up, hire expensive lawyers and quickly try to settle. For many companies, whistleblowers are a cost of doing business. If they are caught, they quietly pay up and move forward.
Other companies retaliate by firing the troublemaker. But if you really want to have a chilling effect on whistleblowers, both fire and sue them.
Oracle is now stranger to legal battles. Suing whistleblowers may represent a new low in corporate behavior, however. Honest companies want employees to come forward and report problems. Others have employee fraud hotlines that allow employees to report problems anonymously. Evidently Oracle doesn’t want to know about their own bad behavior and they darn sure don’t want their employees seeking lawyers and government regulators.
Most whistleblower lawsuits resemble David versus Goliath. A single brave whistleblower taking on a giant multinational company with very deep pockets and legions of high priced lawyers. This case, however, is about to become Goliath versus David.
What does “Goliath” (Oracle) have to say about this lawsuit? A spokesperson obviously denied that the company has engaged in any accounting improprieties. The company didn’t stop there, however. In a prepared statement the company said, Blackburn “was terminated for poor performance and we intend to sue her for malicious prosecution.”
Is Oracle right and Blackburn wrong? Maybe but the right way to handle the case would have been to let a jury unwind the facts. Suing the whistleblower sends a disturbing message to whistleblowers everywhere. “Dare to speak out and we will sue you.” Fortunately, bully tactics like this rarely work.
Retaliation in the form of countersuits are very rare. It is important, however, when choosing a lawyer to represent you in your whistleblower case that you find one unafraid of taking on big corporations.
Oracle hopes to scare off any would be whistleblowers. They don’t want their employees to know that the Justice Department and SEC give out hundreds of millions of dollars each year to whistleblowers who report corporate greed and corruption. (Our clients have received over $100 million in awards!)
Despite Oracle’s unequivocal denials of wrongdoing, investors aren’t so sure. After Blackburn filed her retaliation lawsuit, Oracle’s stock dropped by 4%. That equates into a drop in market value of $5.5 billion. That makes Svetlana Blackburn the winner in round one. Let’s hope that justice continues to prevail.
When we later update this story, we will add a link here. Of course, you can always use our Due Diligence blog’s search engine to find other tories about whistleblower retaliation.
MahanyLaw – Whistleblower Retaliation Lawyers
At MahanyLaw we don’t tolerate retaliation and we don’t tolerate bullies. While we can’t always expect big corporations to welcome whistleblowers with open arms, they still must follow he law. When they don’t, we step in.
Many lawyers will take a whistleblower case but those same lawyers will often run at the first sign of trouble. Some lawyers are afraid to take on corporate America. Not us. We didn’t get over $100 million for our clients by being afraid.
For more information, contact attorney Brian Mahany at or by telephone at (414) 704-6731 (direct). All inquiries are protected by the attorney – client privilege and kept fully confidential.
MahanyLaw – Whistleblower Retaliation Lawyers