Life is not necessarily all skittles and beer for whistleblowers. Sometimes, they are sued by the very companies on which they blew the whistle. Such is the case in the ongoing row in Erhart v. Bofi Holding, Inc., 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 57137. Judge Cynthia Bashant limns the background facts as follows:
"Charles Erhart was an internal auditor for BofI Federal Bank. After Erhart discovered conduct he believed to be wrongful, he reported it to BofI's principal regulator. BofI responded by allegedly defaming and terminating him. Erhart then filed this lawsuit for whistleblower retaliation under state and federal law. The next morning, The New York Times published an article summarizing the lawsuit's allegations—causing BofI's stock price to plummet. The Bank quickly commenced a countersuit against Erhart claiming he committed fraud, breached his duty of loyalty, and violated state and federal anti-hacking statutes. The Court consolidated BofI's countersuit with Erhart's whistleblower-retaliation action."
In the cited decision, Judge Bashant grants in parts and denies in part Erhart's and Bofi's motions for summary adjudication. The ruling is lengthy and tackles a variety of issues, some of which I hope to address in future posts. Nonetheless, a key point for whistleblowers is that Judge Bashant is allowing Bofi's claims against Erhart to proceed to trial, albeit on a limited basis.
When "Whistleblower" First Became Figurative
Recently, I endeavored to identify the first figurative use of the term "whistleblower" in a reported California opinion. I was surprised that earliest case dates to the presidency of Ronald Reagan. Interestingly, the Court addresses the very tension at the heart of Erhart:
"There is a great public interest in the truthful revelation of wrongdoing, and in protecting the 'whistleblower' from retaliation; there is very little public interest in protecting the source of false accusations of wrongdoing."
Mitchell v. Superior Court, 37 Cal. 3d 268, 283, 690 P.2d 625, 634, 208 Cal. Rptr. 152, 161 (1984). Many cases dating back to the mid 19th Century mention the blowing of whistles, but the references are to actual, not figurative, whistles.