May Fb sue whistleblower Frances Haugen?

May Fb sue whistleblower Frances Haugen?

Fb has 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 yr.

US regulation protects whistleblowers who disclose details about potential misconduct to the federal government. However that safety would not essentially cowl taking company secrets and techniques to the media.

Fb nonetheless has to stroll a positive line. The corporate has to weigh whether or not suing Haugen, which might dissuade different staff who may in any other case communicate out, is value casting itself as a authorized Godzilla keen to stomp on a girl who says she’s simply doing the fitting factor.

Haugen could face different penalties. Whistleblowers usually put themselves prone to skilled injury – different corporations could also be reluctant to rent them sooner or later – and private assaults from being within the public eye.

Fb didn’t reply to emailed questions.

What did Haugen do?


On Monday, Fb, WhatsApp and Instagram went offline for six hours. That was solely the second worst factor to occur to the social media behemoth this week.

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Haugen secretly copied a trove of inside Fb paperwork earlier than leaving the corporate and subsequently had her legal professionals file complaints with the Securities and Trade Fee alleging that Fb hides what it is aware of concerning the unfavorable results of its platform.

John Tye, her lawyer, mentioned the crew 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 Road Journal, which she began speaking to in December, resulting in a collection of explosive tales that started in mid-September.

What was Fb’s response?

The corporate says it has been mischaracterized. “I feel most of us simply do not acknowledge the false image of the corporate that’s 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 Related Press interview Thursday, Fb 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 focuses on whistleblower circumstances, mentioned that language was threatening.

In the identical interview, requested if Fb would sue or retaliate towards the whistleblower, Bickert mentioned solely, “I am unable to reply that.”

Every week earlier, Antigone Davis, Fb’s head of world security, testified within the Senate that Fb “would by no means retaliate towards somebody for chatting with Congress,” which left open the likelihood that the corporate may go after her for giving paperwork to the Journal.

Is Haugen protected?

Varied 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 Road 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, specialists say.

Requested about her threat 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 Fb can be “frivolous” and that Fb 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 many years in the past that environmental and nuclear-safety whistleblowers’ communications with the media have been protected. He argues that the language of Sarbanes-Oxley is modelled on these earlier statutes, and Haugen ought to have the identical protections for any of her communications with reporters.

Fb might allege that Haugen broke her nondisclosure settlement by sharing firm paperwork with the press, leaking commerce secrets and techniques or simply by making feedback Fb considers defamatory, mentioned Lisa Banks of Katz, Marshall and Banks, who has labored on whistleblower circumstances for many years. “Like many whistleblowers, she’s terribly courageous and places herself at private {and professional} threat in shining a light-weight 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 imposing the NDA if Fb selected to take action.

May Fb face blowback?

Fb most likely desires its veiled threats to unnerve different staff or former staff who may be tempted to talk out. “In the event that they go after her, it will not be as a result of they essentially suppose they’ve a robust case legally, however sending a message to different would-be whistleblowers that they intend to play hardball,” Banks mentioned.

However she mentioned it could be a “catastrophe” for Fb to go after Haugen. No matter potential authorized vulnerabilities, Fb may seem like a bully if it pursued a authorized case towards her.

“The very last thing Fb wants is to awaken the ire of governmental authorities and the general public at massive by taking part in the function of the large dangerous large firm towards the brave particular person whistleblower,” mentioned Neil Getnick, whose agency, Getnick and Getnick, represents whistleblowers.

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