2016 was more than simply the most robust year in Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) enforcement. It was also a record year in Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) whistleblower awards and additionally the year the SEC literally crashed through the $100 million mark for whistleblower awards under Dodd-Frank. It would therefore seem like a very propitious time for a well-rounded conference focusing solely on this issue. Fortunately for us in the compliance space, Financial Research Associates and Compliance Week have answered the call with the Whistleblowers & Compliance conference to be held in NYC on February 27, 2016. Recently I was able to visit with Conference Chair, Gregory Keating, on the event.
Greg is the Chair of Choate Hall & Stewart LLP’s Labor Employment & Benefits and Whistleblower Defense Groups. In his practice has he three general areas. The first is compliance related and is everything from conducting training for organizations to auditing their existing practices, policies and procedures to assist employers to make sure that everything is setup correctly to insure a transparent environment. Second is in the area of investigations; including those focusing on alleged wide-spread retaliation or wrongful conduct which whistleblowers bring to light. Third is litigation in the arena of whistleblower retaliation suits that are brought under a growing array of statutes, predominately Sarbanes–Oxley (SOX), Dodd-Frank, the False Claims Act, and others which prohibit against retaliation.
Keating is very excited about the conference. He noted there will be a marquee group of speakers who come from a number of different arenas. There will be government officials from some of the most prominent agencies who have agreed to speak. A group with an in-house perspective from some very prominent multi-national organizations who are wrestling with and analyzing how best to respond to this changing climate, who are going to weigh in and give their perspective. There will be some of the most prominent members of the defense bar, nationally and internationally, in this space. Last, but not least, there will be a number of extremely high profile plaintiff lawyers who practice either in Dodd-Frank or the plaintiff side of retaliation against whistleblowers.
The conference will kick-off with a deep dive into the whistleblower landscape, discussing its importance and why there is such deep water right now. It will canvas the expansion of whistleblower rights and remedies, focusing on recent court decisions that have come out and new legislation that continues to evolve. It will also look at what companies are doing specifically in response in this area.
I asked Keating if he might provide an example and he related that there has been a real proven attack on corporate agreements and policies which have the purpose or effect of muzzling whistleblowers. There have been, in the last year at least, almost half a dozen six figure civil money penalties imposed by the SEC. The conference will provide some concrete guidance and advise from both the in-house and defense bar perspective on how to avoid that mine field. Additionally, there will be some concrete advice flowing from some very, very recent Department of Labor (DOL) recommended best practices around how to have an effective compliance program, where they focus on the importance in this day and age of training.
A hot topic to be discussed is the current whistleblower retaliation trial of former Bio-Rad General Counsel (GC) Sanford Wadley. The conference will use this trial to consider the rising tide of in-house counsel and compliance professionals as the whistleblower. Keating said that other hot topics that will likely be addressed include whether whistleblowers can take confidential information in direct violation of a confidentiality agreement and, nonetheless, proceed as a whistleblower and whether would-be whistleblowers could engage in other opposition which arguably is unreasonable and whether those whistleblower rights will trump otherwise legitimate company policies. Keating ended by stating “there is a lot in this space that is really sizzling now” and the conference agenda will reflect these very current topics.
The conference will feature government representatives from the SEC, the US Commodity Future Trading and the DOL. This is whistleblowing across the government spectrum and will allow the attendees to identify some of the issues which corporations across America are grappling with and provide some unique insights into how best to protect oneself in this rapidly changing climate.
No doubt to warm my heart as the nuts and bolts guy, there will be several panels dedicated to subjects such as how do you do compliance, including training; drafting and creating effective employment separation, settlement and confidentiality agreements, and in-house audits. Of course there will also be coverage of hotline triage and response, together with presentations on how set up a robust investigation protocol.
In short, if there is only one whistleblower conference you can attend, you should strongly consider this event. It will showcase regulators, the whistleblower defense bar, top corporate in-house compliance practitioner and GC types, and the plaintiff’s bar for whistleblower and retaliation cases. For any compliance practitioner, GC or lawyer, I think this will be a fabulous conference. I hope you will be able to attend.
Best of all readers of this blog will receive a discount to the event. You can receive a 15% discount off the regular price by entering the Code CMP 161. For more information on the event, check out the website by clicking here.