Banker claims wrongful termination for Ponzi revelations

A Miami whistleblower said he was fired from his prestigious banking position after reporting suspicious activity related to a Ponzi scheme. The man has filed a wrongful termination case against the financier in connection with the allegations, which revolve around money scams initiated by now-famous Scott Rothstein.

The employee, a high-level regulations expert, claims that he was fired after reporting the investor’s misdeeds. His employer, Gibraltar Private Bank, reportedly told him that their workers did not have to abide by federal banking regulations because of their high-level clients. He had reported suspicions related to Rothstein’s accounts as early as 2008, according to the suit, but bank leaders told him to relax regulatory requirements for the investor, saying he was one of the business’s best clients.

When the man refused to ignore the problems and insisted that Rothstein’s accounts be closed, bank managers fired him.

Approximately one year after the man lost his job, Rothstein was apprehended after fleeing to Morocco. Authorities said he had masterminded a giant fraud scheme that ultimately fleeced investors of more than $1 billion. He has since been sentenced to 50 years’ time in a federal prison, according to reports.

Not only did the bank leaders fire the man bringing the suit, but he alleged that they also prevented him from getting other work because they defamed his character. The man’s former supervisors claimed that he was physically violent to other employees, saying that other workers refused to stay alone with the man after hours. The bank also falsely alleged that they were required to hire armed guards after the man was fired because they were afraid he would return with a gun.

The man is seeking compensation for a variety of wrongs, including retaliation, defamation, whistleblower violations and breach of employment agreements. It is not clear how much money the man is seeking in connection with the suit. He is not looking to be reinstated to his former position because the bank has since become defunct.

Source: Courthouse News Service, “Exec claims bank fired him for reporting Rothstein’s Ponzi scam,” Iulia Filip, Nov. 8, 2012

Whistleblower fired for complaining about workplace rodents

A federal judge in a southern Florida court ruled last week that a Florida company illegally retaliated against one if its employees by firing him after he complained about an infestation of rodents at a company facility in Stuart, Florida. The lawsuit to vindicate employee rights was filed by the U.S. Department of Labor.

The man worked for a canvas products manufacturing company called Aquatech Technologies, which is owned by LOTO Services, LLC. The court found that the firing violated the employee’s rights against retaliation for complaining about workplace safety or health under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. The judge awarded the employee $34,186, including $27,072 in lost back wages, $6,700 in expenses, and $414 in interest.

When the employee first complained about rodent droppings in a company office, traps were deployed, but the infestation remained. When the employee repeated his complaint, the employer denied that the problem existed. As a result, the employee notified the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) about the threat to workplace health and safety. When OSHA notified the company about the complaint, the employee was fired.

OSHA enforces federal laws protecting employees who report workplace health and safety rules and other federal regulations. Employers have a mandatory legal duty to provide a safe and healthy workplace consistent with OSHA standards. When these standards are violated or an employee is fired or disciplined for reporting violations, OSHA investigates and takes necessary enforcement actions.

In this case, OSHA’s investigation determined that the employee’s firing was retaliatory and would not have happened absent the employee’s reporting of the workplace rodent problem. It then filed the lawsuit on behalf of the ex-employee.

Source: OSHA Regional News Release, “US Department of Labor wins lawsuit against Aquatech Technologies owners for firing whistleblower who complained about rodents at Stuart, Fla., plant Judge finds canvas manufacturer violated OSH Act by retaliating against employee,” Oct. 10, 2012.

Florida retaliation suits are on the rise

According to statistics compiled by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, retaliation charges in Florida and across the country have more than doubled since 2000.

In 2011, retaliation was the leading charge filed with the EEOC against Florida employers, comprising 39.9% of all discrimination claims. In the same year, the number of discrimination lawsuits filed in Florida’s federal courts also increased 6% from the previous year. Nationwide, such charges accounted for 37.4% of all charges filed with the EEOC.

Sources attribute a variety of factors for the increase in retaliation claims. More employees have access to information regarding the employment law protections available to them. In a sluggish economy, difficulty finding another job after a layoff or termination may cause other workers to resort to retaliation suits.

Another reason may be the probability of success: retaliation charges result in favorable outcomes for employees more than other types of discrimination suits. For example, a sample of 30 retaliation claims resolved in Florida’s federal courts in 2011 shows that 13 received employer verdicts, whereas 17 were resolved either by verdicts for the employee or settlements. The verdicts awarded employees amounts between $5,000 and $200,000; the settlements also included amounts up to $200,000.

In addition, punitive damages are frequently awarded in retaliation lawsuits. Under Florida law, punitive damages are typically awarded when a jury finds that the defendant was guilty of intentional misconduct or gross misconduct, based on clear and convincing evidence. In retaliation cases (not involving unreasonable financial gain), the amount of punitive damages awarded is typically 3 times the amount of compensatory damages received, up to a cap of $500,000.

If you believe your employer has discriminated against you and violated federal or state laws in your workplace, an attorney can help you prepare a claim. An attorney can also protect your rights in the event your employer retaliates against you for reporting unlawful conduct.

Source: Miami Herald, “Impact of retaliation claims on small businesses,” Lori Adelson, July 7, 2012