CBRE Hit With $375K Penalty For Violating SEC’s Whistleblower Protection Rule
The world's largest commercial real estate services company has agreed to pay a $375K penalty to settle charges with the Securities and Exchange Commission over claims the firm breached whistleblower protection rules because of conditions placed on employees’ separation pay.
Between 2011 and 2022, CBRE made employees sign a release attesting they hadn't filed a complaint against the company with any federal agency, the SEC wrote in its order. In just the last two years, 884 employees signed the release.
The language of the release amounted to a violation of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 after it had been amended by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act passed in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis, the SEC found.
CBRE cooperated with the agency’s investigation of the matter, and within a month of learning of the investigation, the firm adapted the releases so they were compliant. Within seven months, the Dallas-based brokerage giant had informed more than 100,000 workers globally of the change in the language.
“It is critical that employees are able to communicate with SEC staff about potential violations of the federal securities laws without compromising their financial interests or the confidentiality protections of the SEC’s whistleblower program,” Eric Werner, regional director of the SEC’s Fort Worth office, said in a statement.
The company consented to a cease-and-desist order from the SEC without admitting or denying wrongdoing and agreed to pay a $375K civil penalty. Werner commended CBRE's “swift and far-reaching remediation” and its cooperation.
"We are pleased to put this matter behind us," a CBRE spokesperson told Bisnow in a statement.
"Our separation agreements have included language that has long been the standard in release agreements for many companies," the spokesperson said. "When the SEC contacted us, we immediately clarified our relevant language and the agency has noted our 'high-level of cooperation' and commended our remediation efforts."