"U.S. Trial Firm of the Year" – 3 Consecutive Years (Benchmark; Law360)

Hueston Hennigan Wins Closely Watched Accounting Industry and Whistleblower Trial for PwC

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Hueston Hennigan obtained a complete defense verdict for PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in a high-profile lawsuit and closely watched federal trial brought by a former employee and SEC whistleblower, Mauro Botta.

“We are extremely pleased that the Court rejected Botta’s false allegations and found in favor of PwC,” said co-lead counsel John Hueston. “Our trial team repeatedly demonstrated that Botta was a disgruntled employee who committed serious misconduct requiring his termination.”

Botta sued 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. Botta’s complaint asserted claims for whistleblower retaliation under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and California law, wrongful termination, defamation, and breach of contract.

Hueston Hennigan aggressively responded to Botta’s complaint, obtaining dismissal with prejudice of all claims against the seven PwC partners and Botta’s defamation claim against PwC. The case proceeded on 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 upmost integrity during its audits and dealings with Mr. Botta. Far from retaliation, the evidence showed that 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 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 Botta expressed in writing his feelings of frustration with PwC partners and with not being promoted.”  That testimony “suggested 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 non-existent 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.”

The Hueston Hennigan Team included John Hueston, Moez Kaba, Joseph Reiter, Shannon Coit, Yegor Fursevich, Michael Todisco, and Winston Shi.

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