A former Vice President for Viacom has brought an action against the media giant alleging that she was wrongfully terminated after blowing the whistle on an alleged unlawful tax-avoidance scheme. Our New York Whistleblower Lawyer discusses the allegations and employment implications below.
Along with a multitude of other properties, Viacom owns the international licensing rights for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (“TMNT”). In her Complaint, Williams, a 7-year employee of Viacom and most recently its Vice President for Financial Planning and Analysis, accuses Viacom of attempting to attribute TMNT’s revenue (a 2014 motion picture release) to the Netherlands in an effort to avoid paying U.S. taxes. While the entity that owns TMNT was based in Netherlands, the Complaint states that all of the business that was conducted concerning the rights of the movie- licensing decisions, contract negotiations – all were done in New York State. The Complaint also alleges that Viacom had a similar plan for other intellectual properties, such as Dora the Explorer and SpongeBob SquarePants.
Williams alleges that other employees, including a Senior Vice President, who expressed their opposition to the tax-avoidance scheme has their employment terminated. When Williams, herself, raised her concerns about the planned activity, she alleges that she was ignored and told to not memorialize the tax avoidance plans in any emails.
Shortly after raising her concerns, Williams went on maternity leave and was soon thereafter terminated, supposedly for making misrepresentations on her W-2 forms. Williams maintains in her lawsuit that no misrepresentations were made, but that Viacom is using this as a pre-text and retaliating against her for opposing its tax-avoidance scheme.
If Williams’ allegations prove to be true, Viacom’s actions would violate federal law, could impact the company’s shareholders, and could have deprived the American taxpayers of millions of dollars. It is worth noting that since the Complaint was only recently filed, Viacom has not yet had an opportunity to respond to Williams’ allegations.
As scary as it may be to be perceived as “biting the hand that feeds you”, it is imperative to overcome that fear – whistleblowers perform a vital function in our society by being guardians of public accountability. Through their actions, whistleblowers have rooted out waste, fraud, and abuse, saved taxpayers untold amounts of money, protected the rights of employees, clients, and shareholders, and have changed the culture of corporations for the better. Whistleblowers have also been awarded monies and have been recognized for their actions, as evidenced by Time Magazine’s 2002 Persons of the Year
Early steps are important in whistleblower matters. If you are aware of any fraud, contact our New York Whistleblower Attorney for a confidential consultation at (800) 893-9645 to learn your rights and options.
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