WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court on Tuesday expanded protections for whistle blowers covered by an anti-fraud law passed following the collapse of energy giant Enron, ruling outside accountants, auditors and lawyers cannot be fired or punished for exposing fraud.
The 6-3 decision will have an effect in the mutual fund and financial services industries, the court said, because they rely heavily on outside contractors and advisers.
The case before the court arose when two employees of a firm that did research for the Fidelity family of mutual funds revealed the funds were overstating expenses. They alleged that in some instances, Fidelity was operating "veiled index funds" while collecting a fee as though they were actively managed.
The two employees say they were reprimanded and ultimately dismissed for having exposed this fraud. When they sued their employer under the Sarbannes-Oxley Act, they lost when an appeals court ruled the law's protection for whistle blowers covered only employees of public firms, not outside advisers and accountants.
In their appeal to the high court, they said this would reimpose "the very code of silence" that allowed massive frauds such as Enron to occur.
A dissent was filed by Justice