Employees who notice something illegal or immoral going on at work are often made to choose between their conscience and their jobs. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform act prohibits employers from retaliating against whistleblowers (those who bring illegal practices to the attention of a regulatory authority), but in practice, these laws rarely have any effect.
An example of this is the case of Johnny Burris. Mr. Burris worked as a broker for JPMorgan’s office in Sun City West, Arizona as a top producing broker and earned glowing performance reviews, at least for his first few years of employment there.
Most of Mr. Burris’s clients consisted of retirees who knew very little about the complicated financial markets, so Mr. Burris considered it part of his job to avoid any investment products which might be unsuitable for his clients, expensive, and/or underperforming. Some of these investment products that Mr. Burris considered allegedly unsuitable included products that JPMorgan offered, and his refusal to promote them to his clients started to draw some criticism from his superiors.
Mr. Burris became concerned that his employers were allegedly pressuring him to push JPMorgan’s products over acting in the best interests of his clients, which is not only allegedly immoral, it’s also illegal if true. Mr. Burris alleges he repeatedly complained to his supervisors and even went so far as to record his colleagues.
In late 2012, Mr. Burris was suspended and then fired from his position at JPMorgan. He was allegedly given no explanation or chance to defend himself. His entry in the broker database for the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (Finra), states that he was dismissed for failing to follow firm procedures in a way that allegedly cost a client $635.
Mr. Burris alleges the charges are false and were created by his former employer in order to get rid of him. He alleges the real reason he was fired was for refusing to push JPMorgan products and then calling attention to the issue when his supervisors pressured him to promote JPMorgan products.
Mr. Burris responded to his termination of employment by taking his evidence against his former employer, including the recordings he had made of his colleagues, to the Securities and Exchange Commission. He also brought public attention to the issue in an article in The New York Times in 2013.
Soon after Mr. Burris’s article appeared in The Times, JPMorgan lodged three customer complaints against Mr. Burris with Finra. The number of complaints is significant because three complaints is the threshold regulators need to subject a broker to “heightened scrutiny.” Most brokerage firms won’t even consider hiring a broker who has three or more complaints against him.
Mr. Burris has since been exonerated in two of the complaints and allegedly was never given a chance to respond to the third.
Mr. Burris also filed an arbitration claim against JPMorgan alleging he was wrongfully dismissed from his position at the company. The complaint Mr. Burris filed with the arbitrator includes his suspicions that two of the three complaints contain the same typefaces and look like they came from the same printer.
JPMorgan initially firmly denied that anyone at the company created any of the complaints, although the company later changed its story to say that Laya Gavin, who took over Mr. Burris’s position after he left, wrote the complaints on behalf of the clients.
However, customer complaints can only be written by the clients bringing the complaint, and Mr. Burris later managed to obtain sworn affidavits from the two clients saying they did not submit those complaints against him, orally or otherwise.
The arbitration panel ruled against Mr. Burris, but the Securities and Exchange Commission (S.E.C.) is reportedly still investigating JPMorgan for failing to make adequate disclosures to clients when brokers promoted the company’s products. If the S.E. C. investigation finds JPMorgan violated the law, Mr. Burris may get a big payday as a whistleblower who provided “original information” leading to a successful enforcement action by the S.E.C.The consumer and tax payer rights law firm of Lubin Austermuehle represents whistleblowers who are pursing qui tam lawsuits at any level of government or for violations of the securities laws and IRS code, including claims under the Illinois Whistleblower Act, the Chicago whistleblower ordinance, the Dodd-Frank Act and the federal False Claims Act. Based in Chicago and Oak Brook, Ill., our Evanstson and Wilmette area qui tam and False Claims Act lawyers stand ready to represent whistleblowers throughout the United States — regardless of whether prosecutors have decided to join the lawsuit. If you know about fraud against a government agency and you’re ready to speak up, you can learn more about whistleblower lawsuits at a free, confidential consultation. To set one up, please contact Lubin Austermuehle online or call 630-333-0333 today.