Our Award Winning Whistleblower Attorneys have been asked to comment on the recent landmark case where a California jury awarded $6 million to a former employee at Playboy Enterprises (“Company”). The employee, Catherine Zulfer, was a senior vice-president and controller with the Company, alleged that she was retaliated against because she refused to approve one million dollars of bonus payments that were not authorized by the Board of Directors. Specifically, she alleged that after she complained to the Company’s General Counsel that its executives were trying to circumvent accounting controls in violation of SEC rules, her employment of thirty years was suddenly terminated. She then filed a lawsuit alleging age discrimination (she was 56 at the time of her termination), retaliation of whistleblower protections afforded by the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act (“SOX”). After years of litigation, a jury of her peers returned the largest verdict ever issued under SOX and also found the Company had engaged in age discrimination when it fired older workers as a campaign to save costs. It can still get worse for the Company as the jury will soon rule on punitive damages since it found that the Company acted with “malice, fraud or oppression.” The Company could be looking at millions more at risk. While the Company plans to appeal, this case has some interesting takeaways from potential whistleblowers:
1. Do not be afraid to stand up for what is right. Ms. Zulfer defied the executives and complained to the General Counsel when she thought rules were being broken.
2. Don’t assume that high level executives always get it right. Whether it was because of greed or other reasons, high level executives were alleged to be trying to evade complex accounting mechanisms. Fraud occurs at all levels of an organization.
3. Follow through on your complaints if any adverse action is taken against you. Don’t let the Company besmirch your name or ruin your career path. Here, the Company allegedly engaged in a campaign to shun, humiliate and ostracize her. Stand up for your rights.
Our Award Winning lawyers have counseled many employees in many employee fraud (e.g., pharmaceutical off label sales, Medicaid Fraud, Government Fraud, etc.) stand up for the rights and justice. We have helped guide many employees in this difficult process. Call us for a confidential consultation to learn your rights and options. Our office number is (800) 893-9645.
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