Former auditor Mauro Botta sued PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and seven partners, claiming that he had been terminated and retaliated against for filing a whistleblower complaint with the SEC that accused PwC of engaging in serious misconduct when conducting external audits for public companies. Mr. Botta’s complaint asserted claims for whistleblower retaliation under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and California law, as well as wrongful termination, defamation, and breach of contract.
In parallel with his complaint, Mr. Botta waged an international publicity campaign, alleging that he was bringing to light inherent conflicts between auditing responsibilities and business development at PwC. See “A Dangerous Dance, When Auditors Are Too Close to Their Clients” Financial Times.
We aggressively responded to Mr. Botta’s complaint, obtaining dismissal with prejudice of all claims against the seven PwC partners and Mr. Botta’s defamation claim against PwC. The case proceeded on Mr. Botta’s remaining claims, culminating in a two-week federal bench trial in February 2021 in the Northern District of California.
At trial, the Hueston Hennigan team presented a compelling narrative that Mr. Botta’s allegations are false, and PwC demonstrated the utmost integrity during its audits and dealings with Mr. Botta. The evidence showed that—far from retaliating—PwC did everything it could to help Mr. Botta succeed and correct his unprofessional behavior. But Mr. Botta refused to take responsibility for his shortcomings and instead retaliated against those who sought to help him.
Mr. Hueston’s cross-examination of Mr. Botta was prominently featured in Law360. Mr. Hueston “painted a picture of Mr. Botta as a foul-mouthed man unsatisfied with his career, bogged down in conspiracy theories and, at times, out of touch with reality.” Mr. Hueston “presented screen after screen of text and email evidence to the judge in which Mr. Botta expressed in writing his feelings of frustration with PwC partners and with not being promoted.” That testimony “suggested Mr. Botta’s unhappiness at the firm had prompted him to declare war on PwC” and file a whistleblower complaint with the SEC, making false allegations.
PwC ultimately terminated Mr. Botta because he claimed—during an internal investigation—to have created a nonexistent accounting control in violation of his professional duties. Although Mr. Botta disputed PwC’s reasons for terminating him, Hueston Hennigan presented overwhelming proof supporting PwC’s non-retaliatory decision, including Mr. Botta’s own written statements and the testimony of PwC’s then-counsel, Walter Brown, who had interviewed Mr. Botta.
In reaching his decision, the Honorable Alex Tse found that PwC’s witnesses and explanations for its actions were “more credible than Botta’s.” As Judge Tse concluded, “Botta didn’t prove that PwC retaliated against him, wrongfully terminated him, or breached his employment agreement. Consistent with the findings made in the order, judgment on all claims will be entered for PwC.”
Mr. Hueston “painted a picture of Botta as a foul-mouthed man unsatisfied with his career, bogged down in conspiracy theories and, at times, out of touch with reality.” Law360 (July 26, 2021)
“PwC LLP was justified in firing a former auditor and didn’t retaliate against him for submitting a whistleblower complaint to the SEC.” —Bloomberg Law (July 26, 2021)
Mr. Botta was a disgruntled employee who—despite claiming to be a whistleblower—committed serious misconduct requiring his termination.” —Bloomberg Law (July 26, 2021)
“PwC Beats Whistleblower’s Retaliation Suit After Bench Trial,” Law360, July 26, 2021.
“PwC Rightly Fired Former Auditor, Judge Rules (2),” Bloomberg Law, July 26, 2021.
“PwC wins ruling against auditor whistleblower who sued over termination,” Accounting Today, July 27, 2021.
“PwC auditor’s firing wasn’t triggered by SEC complaint: judge,” Reuters, July 27, 2021.
“PwC didn’t retaliate against auditor, court says,” Daily Journal, July 27, 2021.