OSHA Orders Tennessee Commerce Bank to Reinstate Whistleblower, Pay $1 Million

March 26, 2010
OSHA has ordered Tennessee Commerce Bank in Nashville, Tenn., to reinstate a former corporate officer and pay more than $1 million in back wages, interest, attorney's fees, compensatory damages and other relief. The department found the bank had fired the individual in violation of the whistleblower protection provisions of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002.

“Sarbanes-Oxley provides protection to workers who report alleged violations of mail, wire, bank or securities fraud; violations of rules or regulations of the Securities and Exchange Commission; or federal laws relating to fraud against shareholders,” said OSHA Administrator David Michaels. “This case clearly shows the department's commitment to ensuring that individuals are provided the protections and relief afforded by the law and sends a strong message that retaliatory actions will not be tolerated.”

A complaint filed with OSHA in April 2008 named Tennessee Commerce Bank and Tennessee Commerce Bancorp Inc. as defendants. The complaint alleged that the employee was placed on administrative leave in March 2008 and fired in May 2008 after raising concerns about internal controls, employee accounts, insider trading and other issues. The complainant first raised concerns to the bank’s audit committee and later to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the Tennessee Department of Financial Institutions.

OSHA investigated the complaint as part of its responsibilities to enforce the whistleblower provisions of Sarbanes-Oxley and 16 other statutes protecting employees who report violations of various securities laws; trucking, airline, nuclear power, pipeline, environmental, rail and workplace safety and health regulations; and consumer product safety laws.

Either party to the case may file objections and/or request a hearing before the Labor Department's Office of Administrative Law Judges within 30 days, but such an appeal does not stay the preliminary reinstatement order.

Under the numerous whistleblower provisions enacted by Congress, employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees who raise various protected concerns or provide protected information to the employer or to the government. Employees who believe that they have been retaliated against for engaging in protected conduct may file a complaint with the secretary of labor for an investigation by OSHA's Whistleblower Protection Program.

Fact sheets and detailed information on employee whistleblower rights are available at http://www.osha.gov/dep/oia/whistleblower/index.html.

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