44th Stanley Moot Court Competition Finals

The final round of the 44th Stanley Moot Court Competition will be held this Friday, November 20 in Worrell 1312 from 3:00-5:00 p.m. The final round will showcase the top two law students in the moot court competition. Blake Stafford (’17) will represent the plaintiff and Emily Jeske (’17) will represent the defendant. The distinguished panel of judges includes: Judge Richard Dietz (’02) of the North Carolina Court of Appeals, Rhoda Billings (’66), a retired Wake Forest Law professor who was the first female chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, and Ken Carlson (’90), an attorney at Constancy, Brooks, & Smith and a Wake Forest Law professor of Advanced Trial Practice and Trade Secrets and Unfair Competition.

The Stanley Moot Court Competition is held each fall semester and open to all second and third year law students. This competition is held in honor of Judge Edwin M. Stanley, a distinguished Wake Forest alumnus and supporter, who served as a United States District Court Judge for the Middle District of North Carolina from 1958 to 1968.

Following oral arguments, awards will be given and the winner announced. There will be a reception in the Law Commons following the competition.

The summary of the case at issue is as follows:

This appeal involves the interpretation of a “whistleblower” or “anti-retaliation” statute, section 510 of the Employer Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), codified at 29 U.S.C. § 1140. The issue is whether Plaintiff Sarah Donaldson engaged in conduct protected by section 510, which makes it unlawful to discharge an employee who “has given information or testified or prepared to testify in any inquiry or proceeding” related to ERISA.

Plaintiff was the Human Resources Director of a fairly new company that was an offshoot of a bigger company. She was on the committee that oversees the company’s retirement plan. She became concerned that the retirement plan was invested in a small firm run by the brother of her company’s treasurer. She complained internally to the treasurer and then the company’s CEO. She was fired and believes it is due to her complaint about the management of the retirement plan.

Plaintiff filed suit against the employer in the Middle District of Florida for two claims: violation of the ERISA anti-retaliation provision and violation of a Florida whistleblower statute. The district court allowed the company’s motion for summary judgment on the ground that her complaint is not protected conduct under ERISA and dismissed the state law claim, declining to exercise pendent jurisdiction over it.  Plaintiff appealed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to Defendant to the Eleventh Circuit.

The argument here is one of statutory interpretation. The parties disagree over whether section 510 protects an employee’s unsolicited internal complaint to management and base their arguments on the plain meaning of section 510, other circuit decisions on point, and interpretation of other whistleblower statutes.

There is a 4-3 circuit split on this issue, with four circuits holding ERISA does not protect unsolicited internal complaints, and three holding that it does.  The Eleventh Circuit is one of the ones that has not addressed the issue. As such, this is a issue of first impression.