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Sterling Employment Law

Fiat Chrysler sales exec files whistleblower suit

Head of U.S. sales for Fiat Chrysler, Reid Bigland, filed suit against the automaker in June for allegedly slashing his pay in retaliation of his participation in an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Despite the company’s claim of year-over-year sales gains for a 75-month streak from 2010 to 2016, changes in sales reporting in 2016 indicate the streak actually ended in 2013. This sparked an investigation by the SEC in May 2017.

SEC investigates Fiat/Chrysler’s sales reporting methods

According to Reuters, Bigland submitted a whitepaper to SEC investigators in January 2019 detailing the monthly sales reporting methods used prior to July 2016. In the two months that followed, Bigland alleges that Fiat Chrysler withheld 90% of his 2018 earnings and refused to award him shares in the company per his employment agreement.

In response, Fiat Chrysler released a statement saying Bigland’s incentive pay was subject to approval by a board committee, and that “eligibility for his award remains subject to that determination and completion of a board-level evaluation of issues that are the subject to governmental investigations.”

In short, this means the board does have the authority to withhold his compensation, but that does not make the situation free of suspicion.

Michigan’s Whistleblowers’ Protection Act

Whistleblower protections in Michigan align with many other state and federal laws, protecting employees from retaliation for participating in government probes. Specifically, it prohibits retaliation for engaging in:

  • Court hearings
  • Legislative inquiries
  • Government investigations

Bigland claims his pay cut is a direct result of his participation in the SEC’s probe. However, Fiat Chrysler recently countered with an argument that Bigland’s possible involvement in improper sales reporting practices makes him ineligible for whistleblower status. Bigland continues to work at Fiat Chrysler, despite the lawsuit.

Whether an employee is fired, demoted, or loses pay, they might have a whistleblower claim if there is evidence those actions were the result of participating in a government investigation. Almost everyone is an “employee at will” but don’t let that stop you from speaking up or taking a stand. 

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