A Dallas-based commercial real estate services and investment firm agreed to pay $375,000 to settle allegations by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that its separation agreements violated whistleblower protections.
CBRE, a subsidiary of publicly traded CBRE Group, agreed to cease and desist from further violations in reaching settlement, the SEC announced in a press release Tuesday.
The agency acknowledged CBRE’s cooperation and remediation in the case, including communicating with more than 800 employees who signed the agreements.
The details: Between 2011 and 2022, CBRE required its departing employees to sign a release that attested they had not filed a complaint against the company with any federal agency, the SEC alleged in its order.
The language in the agreements included employees acknowledging they had not “‘filed any complaint or charges against CBRE or any of its respective subsidiaries, affiliates, divisions, predecessors, successors, officers, directors, shareholders, employees, representatives, or agents with any state or federal court or local, state, or federal agency,’” according to the order.
These stipulations violated the Dodd-Frank Act, the SEC found, by creating impediments for former employees to participate in the agency’s whistleblower program.
Compliance considerations: After learning of the SEC’s investigation, CBRE initiated a remedial program to comply with the Dodd-Frank Act, including:
- Within one month, revising the separation agreements and auditing similar agreements worldwide;
- Within three months, standardizing its global policy;
- Within five months, training 50 members of the compliance team globally on the revisions; and
- Within seven months, launching a mandatory recertification process in which more than 100,000 employees worldwide certified they reviewed the updated policy.
The SEC earlier this month fined Monolith Resources $225,000 for similar violations of whistleblower protections.
Company response: “Our separation agreements have included language that has long been the standard in release agreements for many companies,” a CBRE spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “When the SEC contacted us, we immediately clarified our relevant language, and the agency has noted our ‘high level of cooperation’ and commended our remediation efforts. We are pleased to put this matter behind us.”
The company agreed to the settlement without admitting or denying the SEC’s findings.