According to the latest annual report from the SEC’s Office of the Whistleblower, the number of whistleblower reports and the total value of whistleblower awards continued at elevated levels during fiscal 2019 (which ended September 30, 2019). Though the reports and awards remained high during the fiscal year, both were down relative to the prior fiscal year. And while the aggregate award values and even several individual awards during the fiscal year are impressive, the small number of awards relative to the vast numbers of whistleblower reports is noteworthy and striking, as is discussed further below. The Office of the Whistleblower’s November 15, 2019 report can be found here.
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Amidst the flurry of Supreme Court decisions, new lawsuits, and other activity in the last few days, I have not yet had the chance to comment on a particularly important development earlier this week. That is, on March 19, 2018, the SEC announced the two largest whistleblower bounty awards in the history of its whistleblower bounty program. The value of the two awards to three whistleblowers, whose reports led to a $415 settlement with Merrill Lynch, totaled roughly $83 million. These awards are significant, and not just because of their size, as discussed below. The SEC’s March 19, 2018 press release about the awards can be found here, and the SEC’s heavily redacted March 19, 2018 Order Determining Whistleblower Award Claims can be found here.
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The SEC’s whistleblower program is now entering its seventh year. The SEC’s Office of the Whistleblower’s November 15, 2017 annual report to Congress underscores that the agency’s whistleblower program continues to grow and remains an important part of the agency’s enforcement efforts. The number of whistleblower reports submitted to the agency once again increased in the 2017 FY, and the whistleblower reports continue to lead to significant enforcement recoveries, as well as to significant bounty awards to the whistleblowers, as detailed below. The Office of the Whistleblower’s 2017 report can be found here.
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wb-100-millionOne of the signature features of the Dodd-Frank Act was its creation of an SEC Whistleblower program. Under the program, the SEC can award whistleblowers a bounty of between ten percent and thirty percent of any recoveries the SEC makes in excess of $1 million as result of the information whistleblower provided. The program went into effect in 2011, and the agency immediately began receiving a huge volume of whistleblower reports. Over time the agency has made a number of awards, including the September 2014 award of $30 million, which is still the largest award under the whistleblower program.

While the program has been in operation now for several years, it recently kicked into high gear and the program has passed a number of important milestones. The trend lines suggest that the SEC whistleblower program is going to be an increasingly important part of the corporate liability landscape, and for that reason there are a number of important things to keep in mind.
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SEC logoThe SEC has long made it clear that it intends to protect whistleblowers and to suppress activities it believes will have the effect of discouraging whistleblower activity. The agency recently launched enforcement actions against companies that had incorporated various waivers in employee severance agreements that discouraged employees from reporting possible securities law violations to the SEC. The agency’s actions shows that the agency is prepared to actively target corporate actions the agency believe may suppress the whistleblowing process.
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boeWhen Congress passed the Dodd-Frank Act four years ago, one of the legislation’s signature features was the creation of potentially massive bounties for whistleblowers that reported financial fraud to the SEC. The possibility of recovering a bounty, which could range from ten to thirty percent of recoveries over $1 million, seems to have encouraged whistleblowers

Whistleblower information may be one of the SEC’s “most effective weapons in its new enforcement arsenal,” but the agency’s whistleblower program “faces challenges on many fronts,” according to an April 23, 2013 New York Times Dealbook article entitled “Hazy Future for Thriving S.E.C. Whistle-Blower Effort” (here). As evidence of the whistleblower program’s promise