There continues to be substantial disputes over remedies in SOX retaliation cases. Today, we will explore two of these issues: (1) whether one can obtain front pay under SOX; and (2) whether one can obtain non-economic damages under SOX, such as damages for emotional distress and/or damage to one’s reputation.
I. Front Pay Damages Under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act
II. Non-Economic Damages Under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act
As the opinion in Jones notes, SOX, in its statutory language, clearly provides that aggrieved complainants “shall be entitled to all relief necessary to make the employee whole.” As Jones holds, given that language, and the use of other language such as “including”, which suggests that the listed damages were not intended to be exhaustive, the damages available under SOX go beyond the categories of damages which are specifically listed in the in the statute itself (back pay with interest, reasonable attorneys’ fees, experts’ fees, and so on). In addition to awards of front pay, other categories of damages have been found to be available under SOX as well.
Some courts have held that mental and emotional distress, and other awards for non-economic damages, were not available under SOX. See, e.g., Hemphill v. Celanese Corp., No. 3:08-CV-2131-B, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 84049 (N.D. Tex. Sept. 14, 2009) (dismissing plaintiff’s claims for mental anguish damages); Walton v. Nova Info. Sys., 514 F. Supp. 2d 1031, 1035 (E.D. Tenn. 2007) (holding that non-pecuniary damages, such as injury to reputation, and mental and physical distress, were not available under SOX); Murray v. TXU Corp., No. 3:03-CV-0888-P, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10945 (N.D. Tex. June 7, 2005) (noting that the original draft of the remedies provision of Section 1514A of SOX provided explicitly for punitive damages, but that subsequent drafts removed the language, suggesting that punitive damages were not available). See also Schmidt v. Levi Strauss & Co., 621 F. Supp. 796, 805 (N.D. Cal. 2008) (approvingly citing Murray’s finding that SOX makes “no mention… of any type of damage that might be considered non-pecuniary”).
However, even in the cases which previously ruled that non-economic damages are not available under SOX as a general matter (a ruling which, as demonstrated below, goes against the recent weight of authority on this issue), some of those opinions did nevertheless hold that such damages, such as reputational injury damages, may be available where they are specifically for injuries caused by a decrease in the plaintiff’s future earning capacity, as granting such relief would be consistent with SOX’s goal of making the plaintiff whole. See, e.g., Jones v. Home Fed. Bank, No. CV09-336-CWD, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 3579 (D. Idaho Jan. 14, 2010) (so holding with regard to reputational injury damages); Hanna v. WCI Communities, Inc., 348 F. Supp. 2d 1332, 1334 (S.D. Fla. 2004) (same).
Contrary to the view of the Hemphill line of cases, OSHA’s Administrative Review Board (ARB) has recently held that non-economic damages are available under SOX. See, e.g., Kalkunte v. DVI Fin. Servs., Inc., ARB Nos. 05-139 & 05-140, ALJ No. 2004-SOX-056 (ARB Feb. 27, 2009) (opinion available here) (awarding complainant $22,000 for “pain, suffering, mental anguish, the effect on her credit [because of her loss of employment] and the humiliation that she suffered.”); Brown v. Lockheed Martin Corp., ALJ No. 2008-SOX-00049 (ALJ Jan. 15, 2010), affirmed, ARB No. 10-050 (ARB Feb. 28, 2011) (opinion available here) (affirming award to complainant of $75,000 for emotional pain and suffering, mental anguish, embarrassment, and humiliation). Of note, the ARB’s opinion in Brown was recently affirmed by the Tenth Circuit, in Lockheed Martin Corp. v. Admin. Review Bd., 717 F.3d 1121 (10th Cir. 2013). In upholding the ARB’s award of non-economic compensatory damages in particular, the Tenth Circuit noted:
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