by GAP General Counsel Joanne Royce and National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA) Executive Director Terisa E. Chaw. This op-ed also appeared in the Baltimore Sun, Salt Lake Union Tribune, and the Canton Repository (OH).
When former Enron Chief Executive Jeffrey K. Skilling was sentenced last week to more than 24 years in prison for his role in the company's 2001 collapse, it was a reminder of how the Enron scandal forced changes in government's oversight of corporate America.
In the wake of that scandal, Congress strengthened securities laws in 2002 to protect investors and markets from future financial disasters. Unfortunately, powerful corporations are challenging these laws in bitter legal disputes across the country. One such battle threatens to disarm perhaps the most effective post-Enron legal remedy: the protection of corporate employees who identify suspected securities fraud within their corporations. This provision, as part of the Sarbanes-Oxley bill, was designed to avert economic disasters by shielding whistle-blowers of publicly traded companies from retaliation.
Corporations are capitalizing on minor ambiguities in the language of this whistle-blower statute to claim that only employees of parent corporations, not wholly-owned subsidiaries, are covered by these legal protections. Defense lawyers find support for this argument in "black letter" corporate law, which contends that parent companies are independent from subsidiaries and should thus not be held liable for subsidiary misconduct.