Mauro Botta, a former auditor at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC) who blew the whistle on the firm’s cozy relationships with its clients, lost his whistleblower retaliation case. On July 26, Magistrate Judge Alex Tse of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled that Botta did not qualify for whistleblower protections because he did not prove that PwC violated any laws.
Botta was an auditor for PwC for nearly twenty years. In 2016, he submitted a whistleblower disclosure with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) alleging that PwC willingly overlooked clients’ accounting mistakes and shortcomings in internal controls in order to retain business. For example, according to WNN’s Whistleblower of the Week profile featuring Botta, in 2012, he “worked on an audit where he noted a lack of transparency between PwC and the client, a lack of internal controls, or competent management on the client’s part. Later, PwC removed Botta from the audit of that client. PwC was concerned that Botta’s concerns would raise issues with the client.”
PwC fired Botta in 2017 and in 2018, Botta filed a whistleblower retaliation lawsuit against the firm alleging that his removal was in response to his disclosure to the SEC. Botta claimed that PwC violated the anti-retaliation provisions of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX Act). In his lawsuit, he sought reinstatement at PwC and $5 million in damages for back pay, lost earnings, and emotional distress.
Judge Tse ruled that Botta’s disclosure did not prove any violations of the law, which is required for SOX protections to apply. In his ruling, he further wrote that the timing of the firing, months after Botta’s whistleblowing, did not in itself prove retaliation. According to the ruling, Botta “simply didn’t put forward enough evidence to prove that his SEC complaint contributed to PwC’s decision to fire him. The temporal proximity between his complaint and his termination generated suspicion, but at trial that suspicion wasn’t confirmed.”
In a recent interview with WNN, Botta expressed his frustration with the ruling. “The decision is disappointing to say the least,” he stated. “It contained several factual errors. I believe it demonstrates that a firm’s well-paid attorneys, and not the facts, are what often determines a judge’s decision.”
“My case also demonstrates that the real culprits are the SEC, which ousted me instead of protecting me, the PCAOB [Public Company Accounting Oversight Board] which is allegedly investigating my claims but has done nothing, and Congress, which has members who collect accolades about whistleblower protection but do not respond to whistleblowers when they want a hearing or support,” Botta continued.