When Is a Workplace Whistleblower Not a Whistleblower?

The other day our local paper ran a story about David Danon, a former attorney with the Vanguard Group who’s embroiled in a huge lawsuit over his claim that Vanguard bilked the federal government out of $1 billion and the state of New York out of $20 million by operating an illegal tax shelter.

My husband (who still reads the local paper every day, God bless him), brought the story to my attention, because he knows I’m into that stuff.

Even so, I usually avoid writing much about “that stuff” on TLNT, because there are writers/attorneys here far better equipped to do so than I. But heck, this case compelled me to say a few words.

Not your average whistleblower

Because Danon was an attorney for Vanguard, it’s not clear whether he’s allowed to blow the whistle without violating attorney-client privilege, a big no-no.

In an article it ran earlier this month, The Wall Street Journal quoted a partner at law firm Cohen & Gresser LLP as saying, “The question is whether lawyers are free to rat on their clients and profit thereby. The answer is no.”

Well, that’s an attention-grabbing quote, I’ll give you that, but come on. It’s not like Danon was defending Vanguard in a suit at the time.

Again, I’m no attorney, but I don’t think that’s the question. I think the question is, “Should corporate evil doers be allowed every opportunity to hide their dirt, regardless of how high it’s piled?”

Others obviously disagree. One commenter on the article wrote, “Danon is trying to break the No. 1 rule of lawyering — client confidentiality — for personal monetary gain.”

Yeah, that’s not how I see it.

The battle?

While researching the link between sociopathy and pathological lying (don’t ask), I came across a website written by a man who’s apparently on a mission.

His goal? To educate anyone with ears to hear about the dangers of the character disturbed among us. This gentleman believes we’re in a “battle for the human conscience.” (That’s what he wrote, honest.) He also wrote:

There is so much at stake here: the very future of empathy, compassion, and love as we know it. Are these qualities strengths or weaknesses? Is the human conscience a brilliant evolutionary step for mankind, or is it a convenient vulnerability to be exploited?”

That sounds a little deep AND a little crazy, doesn’t it?

But it brings us back to David Danon and that commenter.

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Standing up when everyone else is sitting down is not easy. Standing up with a 500-pound gorilla on your shoulders is nearly impossible. I don’t know what Danon is going through, but my guess is he’s going through something. Whistleblowers always do.

Whether Danon’s claim is valid, I can’t say. Still, I’m inclined to give the guy the benefit of the doubt that it’s sincere. If you think blowing the whistle is a piece of cake, Mr. Commenter, you try it and then report back to the rest of us.

Corporate wrongdoing is a big deal

Are we in a battle for the human conscience and do our workplaces prove it? As I listen to my friends, surf the internet, watch the news, and of course, reflect on my own expe-riences, I wonder.

According to the 2014 WBI U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey, 27 percent of Americans have experienced abusive conduct at work. Another study found that most bad managers have personality disorders.

Still, that same WBI survey found that 5 percent of Americans believe aggressive conduct is “necessary for a competitive organization” even while others are writing about the “upside” of narcissism or seeking to explain what psychopaths can teach us about succeeding.

Supporting whistleblowers

I think these folks are out of their minds. There’s no upside to pathological narcissism. (And I dare anyone to argue that crap to the folks who lost their retirement savings during the Enron debacle.)

So, while I’m all for lively discourse, I’m dumbfounded by the debate over Danon’s suit. Rather than questioning his motives and making his life more difficult, I’d hope we could give Danon (and other whistleblowers for that matter) all the support we can muster.

But like I said, I’m no attorney.

Crystal Spraggins, SPHR, is an HR consultant and freelance writer who lives in Philadelphia. She also writes at her blog, HR BlogVOCATE. For the past 15 years, Crystal has focused on building HR departments in small- to mid-sized companies under the philosophy that "HR is not for wimps." She is also the CEO and Founder of Work It Out! and partners with HRCVision, a full-service HR consultant practice specializing in leadership and diversity training. Contact her at crs036@aim.com.

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1 Comment on “When Is a Workplace Whistleblower Not a Whistleblower?

  1. This is a tricky one. Would it matter what topic is disclosed and whether it was related to the specific duties of the counsel?

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