Head of U.S. sales for Fiat Chrysler Reid Bigland, filed a whistleblower protection suit against the automaker on June 5, alleging the company retaliated against him for participating in a probe by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Bigland claims Fiat Chrysler withheld 90% of his pay when the company learned he cooperated in an investigation by the SEC into the company's sales-reporting practices. The company is reportedly under scrutiny for continuing to report impressive sales for 75 months when consecutive sales gains really ended in 2013.
Whistleblower statutes protect employees who report problems
Bigland's complaint is based on Michigan's Whistleblowers' Protection Act, which protects both public and private employees who report violations by their employer.
Like many other whistleblower statutes, the law prohibits employers from discharging, threatening or otherwise discriminating against an employee for:
- Testifying at a court hearing
- Participating in a government investigation
- Responding to legislative inquiries
- Reporting a violation of law
If a judge attributes the decrease in Bigland's pay to his cooperation with the SEC, Fiat Chrysler could face severe consequences for retaliation.
Someone who remains at the company can still face retaliation
When many people think of workplace retaliation, they likely first think of someone fired for reporting violations. However, whistleblower laws generally recognize suspension and denial of pay or benefits as retaliation as well.
At this point, Bigland remains an employee of Fiat Chrysler. He points to his history of excellent performance at the company, alleging that there is no performance-based reason for the company to dock his pay so drastically.
In response, Fiat Chrysler stated that "[Reid Bigland's] eligibility for incentive compensation, like that of all corporate officers, is subject to a determination by the Board of Directors' compensation committee that he satisfied the applicable company and personal performance conditions."
Whistleblowers keep organizations honest
Legal protections for whistleblowers reinforce the notion that we need whistleblowers to keep businesses on the right side of the law. Those who believe their employer has retaliated against them for speaking up should consult an attorney who understands the challenges they face.