Apple's Disclosures Regarding Jobs' Health Remain Under Scrutiny by SEC
Bloomberg reports that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is continuing to investigate Apple's disclosures regarding Steve Jobs' health during the early January period leading up to the announcement that Jobs would be taking a six-month medical leave of absence. The report is a follow-up to Bloomberg's January report about the investigation.
"The issue here is: Did Apple or Jobs make misleading disclosures, tested by what they knew at the time?" said Robert Hillman, a securities law professor at the University of California, Davis. "A disclosure could be misleading if it's a partial truth."
Whether the SEC will ultimately be able to take action against Apple or Jobs is unknown, given the uncertainty about the situation and the "murky" laws regarding disclosure of the health of companies' CEOs. Regardless of the extent to which a company has a duty to reveal health matters, it is clear that once a company chooses to speak about an issue, it must do so truthfully.
While there has to be some measure of confidentiality around the health of executives, any disclosures need to be accurate and complete, said Jahan Raissi, a former SEC enforcement attorney.
"Once you open your mouth and start to speak on a topic, you have to say something completely truthful," said Raissi, who is now a partner at Shartsis Friese LLP in San Francisco. "If what you omitted is material, thats a problem."
On that basis, the SEC is focusing its inquiry on what events may have transpired between January 5th, when Jobs and Apple announced that he was suffering from a "hormone imbalance" for which the treatment was "relatively simple" and January 14th, when Jobs announced that he was taking a leave of absence due to the medical issue being "more complex" than originally thought.
Jobs' health issues ultimately required him to undergo a liver transplant, although he was still able to meet his stated timeline in returning to work by the end of June.