As the first year anniversary of the Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA) has just passed, it is worth taking a step back and taking stock of how courts have treated key provisions. This will be the first of several posts covering developments under the DTSA and analyzing how it has been used since its enactment.
One of the most-discussed features of the DTSA was its creation of a “whistleblower” immunity that allows employees to share evidence of an employer’s alleged misconduct with government authorities or present that evidence in support of a retaliation claim under seal in court and avoid a claim that the employee misappropriated trade secrets when they disclosed that information. This provision, 18 U.S.C. §1833, is the only provision of the DTSA that preempts state law, so it affords protection to an employee against an employer’s claims under the Uniform Trade Secrets Act or common law as well.
As readers may recall, the DTSA requires employers who want to take advantage of the DTSA’s full protections to amend their contracts, employee agreements, and policies to provide notice of that whistleblower defense to its employees, which has been broadly defined to include independent contractors. If a company fails to include that notice in its agreements or policies, it is foreclosed from seeking claims for attorney’s fees and exemplary damages under the DTSA. The DTSA broadly defines an employee to include “any individual performing work as a contractor or consultant for an employer” so both 1099 and W-2 employees are covered under this provision.
Not surprisingly, when the DTSA was enacted, many employers were concerned about what, if any notice, needed to be supplied to its employees about this immunity and to what extent they needed to amend their employment agreements and policies. Section 1833(b)(3)(B) makes clear that an employer can comply with this notice provision if its employment agreement simply cross-references a policy document that more fully describes the employer’s reporting policy for a suspected violation of the law. However, the DTSA does not define what kind of notice or language must be provided, so it remains an open question of whether a specific citation to the DTSA would be sufficient or whether the relevant language of the DTSA’s whistleblower provision needs to be included.
To date, there is only one case involving the DTSA’s whistleblower provision. This should not come as too much of a surprise since the whistleblower provision’s primary consequences — a challenge to an award of attorneys’ fees or exemplary damages under the DTSA for failure to provide notice of that immunity or the viability of the immunity itself– will generally require that a case have been fully litigated, something that has not happened with many DTSA cases. Continue Reading The Defend Trade Secrets Act After One Year: The Whistleblower Provision