Facebook has just lately taken a harsher tone towards whistleblower Frances Haugen, suggesting that the social community could possibly be contemplating authorized retaliation after Haugen went public with inside analysis that she copied earlier than leaving her job earlier this 12 months.
U.S. regulation protects whistleblowers who disclose details about potential misconduct to the federal government. But that safety would not essentially cowl taking company secrets and techniques to the media.
Facebook nonetheless has to stroll a tremendous line. The company has to weigh whether or not suing Haugen, which may dissuade different staff who may in any other case converse out, is value casting itself as a authorized Godzilla prepared to stomp on a lady who says she’s simply doing the best factor.
Haugen might face different penalties. Whistleblowers usually put themselves susceptible to skilled injury—different corporations could also be reluctant to rent them sooner or later—and personal attacks from being within the public eye.
Facebook didn’t reply to emailed questions.
WHAT DID HAUGEN DO?
Haugen secretly copied a trove of inside Facebook paperwork earlier than leaving the corporate and subsequently had her attorneys file complaints with the Securities and Exchange Commission alleging that Facebook hides what it is aware of concerning the destructive results of its platform.
John Tye, her lawyer, mentioned the workforce gave redacted paperwork to Congress, the place Haugen testified on Tuesday, and in addition knowledgeable officers in California. Haugen additionally shared paperwork with the Wall Street Journal, which she started talking to in December, resulting in a series of explosive stories that started in mid-September.
WHAT WAS FACEBOOK’S RESPONSE?
The firm says it has been mischaracterized. “I think most of us just don’t recognize the false picture of the company that is being painted,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote to staff on Tuesday.
Some firm officers have additionally begun utilizing harsher language to explain Haugen’s actions that could possibly be interpreted as threatening.
In an Associated Press interview Thursday, Facebook government Monika Bickert repeatedly referred to the paperwork Haugen copied as “stolen,” a phrase she has additionally utilized in different media interviews. David Colapinto, a lawyer for Kohn, Kohn and Colapinto who makes a speciality of whistleblower circumstances, mentioned that language was threatening.
In the identical interview, requested if Facebook would sue or retaliate towards the whistleblower, Bickert mentioned solely, “I can’t answer that.”
Per week earlier, Antigone Davis, Facebook’s head of worldwide security, testified within the Senate that Facebook “would never retaliate against someone for speaking to Congress,” which left open the chance that the corporate may go after her for giving paperwork to the Journal.
IS HAUGEN PROTECTED?
Various legal guidelines supply whistleblower safety at each the state and federal ranges. The federal legal guidelines relevant to Haugen are the Dodd-Frank Act, a 2010 Wall Street reform regulation, and the Sarbanes Oxley Act, a 2002 regulation that adopted the collapse of Enron and different accounting scandals.
Dodd-Frank expanded protections for whistleblowers and empowered the SEC to take motion towards an organization that threatens a whistleblower. Protections exist for each staff and former staff, consultants say.
Asked about her danger as a result of she went to the media, Haugen’s lawyer, Tye, maintains that as a result of Haugen went to the SEC, Congress and state authorities, she’s entitled to whistleblower protections. He mentioned any swimsuit from Facebook could be “frivolous” and that Facebook has not been in contact.
WHAT ABOUT HER LEAKS TO THE MEDIA?
Courts have not examined whether or not leaking to the media is protected beneath Dodd-Frank, however Colapinto mentioned the U.S. Secretary of Labor decided a long time in the past that environmental and nuclear-safety whistleblowers’ communications with the media had been protected. He argues that the language of Sarbanes-Oxley is modeled on these earlier statutes, and Haugen ought to have the identical protections for any of her communications with reporters.
Facebook may allege that Haugen broke her nondisclosure settlement by sharing firm paperwork with the press, leaking commerce secrets and techniques or simply by making feedback Facebook considers defamatory, mentioned Lisa Banks of Katz, Marshall and Banks, who has labored on whistleblower circumstances for many years. “Like many whistleblowers, she’s extraordinarily brave and puts herself at personal and professional risk in shining a light on these practices,” she mentioned.
Haugen successfully used leaks to the media to show up the strain on Congress and authorities regulators. Colapinto mentioned her disclosures had a public-interest function that would complicate implementing the NDA if Facebook selected to take action.
COULD FACEBOOK FACE BLOWBACK?
Facebook in all probability desires its veiled threats to unnerve different staff or former staff who may be tempted to talk out. “If they go after her, it won’t be because they necessarily think they have a strong case legally, but sending a message to other would-be whistleblowers that they intend to play hardball,” Banks mentioned.
But she mentioned it will be a “disaster” for Facebook to go after Haugen. Regardless of potential authorized vulnerabilities, Facebook may appear like a bully if it pursued a authorized case towards her.
“The last thing Facebook needs is to rouse the ire of governmental authorities and the public at large by playing the role of the big bad giant company against the courageous individual whistleblower,” mentioned Neil Getnick, whose agency, Getnick and Getnick, represents whistleblowers.
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