Fiscal year 2018 marked a historic year for the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Whistleblower Program both in terms of the dollar amount of whistleblower rewards the agency doled out and the number of tips received, according to the SEC annual report to Congress.
In the past fiscal year, the SEC ordered its largest whistleblower awards to date. “In fact, the Commission awarded more dollars in FY 2018 to meritorious whistleblowers who provided new and critical information than in all prior years combined,” Jane Norberg, chief of the Office of the Whistleblower, said in the report.
Highlights from the report are summarized below.
Whistleblower tips increase: The Commission also received more whistleblower tips (5,200) in fiscal year 2018 than in any other previous year. This represents the highest increase in tips since the beginning of the program—a nearly 76 percent increase since fiscal year 2012. According to the SEC’s report, tips increased in the months following the Supreme Court’s ruling in the case, Digital Realty Trust v. Somers, which may have been attributable, in part, to the ruling.
New rules proposed: Following the Supreme Court’s Digital Realty case, the Commission proposed amendments to bring the Whistleblower Rules in line with the holding of the Court. In Digital Realty, the Supreme Court held that the whistleblower provisions of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 require that a person report potential securities law violations to the SEC in order to qualify as a whistleblower protected against employment retaliation under Section 21F(h) of the Dodd-Frank Act. Thus, the ruling invalidated the Commission’s rule interpreting that provision’s anti-retaliation protections to apply regardless of whether a report of possible securities law violations was made to the Commission, to a different government agency, or internally to an employer.
The ruling resolved a Circuit Court split regarding whether individuals who had reported only to their employers, rather than to the Commission, were protected under Dodd-Frank’s anti-retaliation protections. “This is a significant change in whistleblower protections, and potential whistleblowers should be mindful of this ruling when deciding when to report their concerns to the Commission,” Norberg noted.
Whistleblower awards increase: The SEC has awarded over $326 million to 59 individuals since the start of the whistleblower program. In Fiscal Year 2018 alone, the SEC awarded more than $168 million in whistleblower awards to 13 individuals whose information and cooperation assisted the Commission in bringing successful enforcement actions. “This amount exceeds the total amount awarded in all prior years combined and reflects the significance of the information that whistleblowers are reporting to the Commission,” Norberg said.
Additionally, the SEC made two of its largest-ever whistleblower awards this past fiscal year—a total combined $83 million award shared by three individuals, and an award of almost $54 million shared by two individuals. “The recipients of these large awards provided significant information regarding serious violations that otherwise may have gone unnoticed and resulted in substantial enforcement actions,” Norberg said.