The Cloud

Suit Against Oracle Spotlights Cloud Accounting

The whistleblower lawsuit by a former senior finance manager marks the latest criticism of how technology vendors are reporting cloud-related reven...
David KatzJune 2, 2016

Accusing her Oracle supervisors of trying “to fit square data into round holes” to boost financial results, a former senior finance manager at the firm with responsibility for cloud revenues has filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the technology giant.

In her lawsuit, which demands a jury trial, Svetlana Blackburn charges that her superiors at Oracle America “instructed her to add millions of dollars in accruals to financial reports, with no concrete or foreseeable billing to support the numbers.”

Filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Mateo County, the suit contends that Blackburn warned that doing so would cause her to engage in “improper and suspect accounting.” Black allegedly told her supervisor that she “will blow the whistle” if she were ordered to proceed in that way.

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In a statement emailed to CFO, Oracle spokesperson Deborah Hellinger replied: “We are confident that all our cloud accounting is proper and correct. This former employee worked at Oracle for less than a year and did not work in the accounting group.  She was terminated for poor performance and we intend to sue her for malicious prosecution.”

The case marks the latest criticism of how technology vendors are reporting sales related to the cloud. Last December, Gartner, the information technology research firm, posted a paper on its website advising corporate chief information officers to “direct their organizations to never take vendor cloud revenue at face value, and evaluate vendors on their strategy and service mix.”   

Oracle was among the firms cited in the Gartner paper, which also discusses Google, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, IBM, Microsoft,  Salesforce, and SAP. “Assessing vendor cloud revenue claims has become more challenging, with many vendors’ IT-related businesses being complicated and nuanced,” according to the firm.  

In her lawsuit, Blackburn claims that she “diligently performed her duties and received a positive performance review in August 2015.” But in September, “her supervisors charted a course that veered from legal, ethical, and company standards,” she charges.

Blackburn asserts the she knew the accruals “would end up in SEC filings and be touted on earnings calls [and be] used to paint a rosier picture than actually existed on the ground.”

The former senior finance manager contends that she foresaw what amounted to a chain reaction resulting from relatively small accounting entries. “Dollar amounts that might seem modest on their face would propagate through other data, influencing a host of statements on reports made to the investing public,” according to Blackburn’s suit, which was filed under the Dodd-Frank and Sarbanes-Oxley Acts.

She charges that her supervisors “went ahead and added accruals on their own” and notes that she again objected to them. Blackburn adds that she confronted one of them about the risks represented by an absence of billings “and the history of bad accruals that never resulted in billings.”

According to Blackburn’s account, the supervisor found her statements “irritating.” Besides her supervisors, “a fellow finance manager and the company’s assistant controller were on notice of [Blackburn’s] concerns,” according to the suit.

Continuing to “resist and warn of the accounting improprieties,” Blackburn “became more of a roadblock than a team player who would blindly generate financial reports using improper bases in order to justify the bottom lines that her superiors demanded to see,” according to the lawsuit.

She was fired by Oracle on October 15, 2015.