Highlights from NWC's 2020

by Kait Pararas, Program Manager
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Highlights from NWC’s 2020

Last week, the National Whistleblower Center released its 2020 End of Year Report, looking back on the successes and challenges in a year of dramatic change.

As part of our report, we featured our top ten highlights of the year. We’re also sharing them here. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but we’re proud of how far we’ve come.

1. Climate Corruption Campaign Launched

As January began, we officially launched our Climate Corruption Campaign, the first sustained effort to educate potential whistleblowers in the fossil fuel and industrial logging industries about their rights under whistleblower laws, including to keep their identities confidential and to secure financial rewards when they assist with successful prosecutions. Over the course of the year, we assisted five confidential whistleblowers in securing qualified counsel for their cases.

2. National Whistleblower Day

We organized our first virtual National Whistleblower Day conference in July, attracting a live audience of hundreds and stimulating an important conversation about the politics and policies surrounding whistleblowing among key thought leaders. Panel topics included Covid-19, climate change, and tools for whistleblowers. Additionally, one of our keynote speakers, Senator Chuck Grassley, used the conference to announce his plans for enacting important amendments to strengthen the False Claims Act.

3. SEC Whistleblower Program Decision Announced

In September, after two years of advocacy, NWC defeated a proposed SEC rule that would have capped the size of whistleblower awards and erected unreasonable procedural barriers to filing whistleblower cases.  It is truly remarkable that an SEC otherwise badly divided along partisan lines came together and unanimously reversed itself on a whistleblower policy proposal.

4. ‘Exposing a Ticking Time Bomb’ Report Released

In July, we released an in-depth report documenting the signs of climate-risk fraud in the fossil fuel industry, how this fraud threatens the world’s financial system and ways that whistleblowers can help. The report was covered by several influential media outlets, and Senator Elizabeth Warren referenced the report multiple times in her to the SEC calling for stronger disclosure rules.

5. Whistleblower Court Decision Announced

In March, United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed an order that had required a qui tam whistleblower to pay over $58,000 in e-discovery court costs to the multinational defense contractor KBR. The precedent-setting unanimous decision in the case of U.S. ex rel. Harry Barko v. KBR et al. barred defendants in civil litigation from billing whistleblowers tens of thousands of dollars for discovery costs – keeping federal courts open to the rich and the poor alike.

6. Court Access Testimony Provided

In January, NWC’s General Counsel, David Colapinto, testified before the House Oversight Subcommittee on Government Operations regarding the critical need for strengthened protections of federal whistleblowers. In his testimony, he highlighted the need for federal employees to be able to recover damages when they suffer from Privacy Act violations. He also emphasized the need for access for federal whistleblowers to the courts and a jury of their peers after administrative remedies have been exhausted.

7. Climate Risk Disclosure Lab Launched

We launched the Climate Risk Disclosure Lab with the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University and the Global Financial Markets Center at Duke Law School in July. Through our work with the Lab, we are helping shape the rules governing how companies disclose climate risks and ensuring a prominent role for whistleblowers in enforcing these rules.

8. Facebook Supplement Filed

In June, a confidential whistleblower assisted by NWC filed a supplement to their 2019 petition to the SEC calling for sanctions against Facebook for its deception of shareholders and the public. The research shows that despite Facebook’s assurances since the filing of the 2019 whistleblower petition, its assistance to white supremacist groups continues unabated.

9. Amicus for Retaliation Case Filed

In July, NWC filed an amicus curia brief in support of a petitioner advocating for whistleblower retaliation protections before the U.S. Supreme Court. The case, Nathan Van Buren v. United States, concerns the interpretation of the phrase “to exceed authorized access” under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. In its brief, NWC urges the Court to not rule so broadly as to undermine whistleblowers who assist law enforcement officials, following the approach of other circuits that upheld those protections.

10. Marist Poll Released

In September, NWC assisted with the release of a new national poll conducted by Marist showed that likely voters – regardless of party affiliations and other demographic differences – agree that Congress should prioritize passing stronger whistleblower laws that protect employees who report corporate fraud. In total, 81% of likely voters believe that passing corporate whistleblower protections should be prioritized.

All that we accomplished in 2020 was possible due the strength of our supporters. As we look forward into 2021, the same remains true.  Please read and share our 2020 End of Year Report and consider making a tax-deductible donation to the NWC so that it may continue to fight for whistleblowers.

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