Articles Posted in Retaliation / Whistleblowing

New Jersey’s Appellate Division recently ruled that volunteer firefighters are not protected by New Jersey’s whistleblower law, the Conscientious Employee Protection Act (“CEPA”), because they are not “employees.”

NJ Whistleblower Law Does Not Protect Volunteer Firefightersot Protected by Whistleblower LawFor 20 years, Jeffrey Sauter served as a volunteer firefighter for the Township of Colts Neck, Fire Company No. 2.  Although he was not paid any wages for his services, he earned between $400 and $1,500 in deferred compensation benefits per year under the Emergency Services Volunteer Length of Service Award Program (“LOSAP”).

In 2004, Mr. Sauter filed another CEPA lawsuit against his fire company, claiming it suspended him for 18 months in retaliation for complaints he made about the bidding process relating to renovations of the fire hall.  He eventually settled that case for $10,000, including attorney’s fees.  Nonetheless, Mr. Sauter believed the fire company owed him another $8,000 for his legal fees.

On July 25, 2017, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit recognized that New Jersey’s whistleblower law, the Conscientious Employee Protection Act (“CEPA”), prohibits an employer form retaliating against a lawyer because he refused to engage in an activity he reasonably believes violates attorney ethics.

Employer Cannot Retaliate Against Lawyer who Objected to Patent QuotaSteven Trzaska worked as a patent lawyer for L’Oréal USA, Inc.  The company’s French parent company, L’Oréal, S.A., instituted a quota for the number of patents applications each patent team had to reach, and warned employees that if they did not meet their quota “there would be consequences which would negatively impact their careers and/or continued employment.”  In 2014, L’Oréal set a quota of 40 patents for Mr. Trzaska’s team.  However, Mr. Trzaska and his team did not believe there were 40 patentable products for which they could file patent applications in good faith.

Like all lawyers, Mr. Trzaska is bound by Rules of Professional Conduct (“RPCs”).  For example, one such rule established by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) prohibits patent lawyers from making frivolous or bad-faith patent applications.  Likewise, an applicable Pennsylvania RPC prohibits lawyers from making false statements to a court or tribunal such as the United States Patent Office.

In a recent published opinion, New Jersey’s Appellate Division reversed a trial court’s rulings that an employee had waived his right to a jury trial under New Jersey’s whistleblower law, the Conscientious Employee Protection Act (“CEPA”).

Court Rules Employee Entitled to Jury TrialGreg Noren worked as a Relationship Manager for Heartland Payment Systems, Inc. for more than seven years.  During that time, he signed two employment agreements that indicated he waived “any right to trial by jury in any suit, action or proceeding under, in connection with or to enforce this Agreement.”  Both contracts also included provisions stating that, in any lawsuit “arising out of or related to this Agreement, the successful party shall be awarded . . . costs of suit, fees of experts and reasonable attorneys’ fees against the unsuccessful party.”

After Heartland fired him, Mr. Noren filed a lawsuit in which he claimed the company had breached his employment agreement and retaliated against him in violation of CEPA.

A recent case from the Third Circuit Court of Appeals reinforces the fact that an employee who objects to something he reasonably believes violates the law does not have to be correct to be protected by New Jersey’s whistleblower law, the Conscientious Employee Protection Act (“CEPA”).

Police Officers Interacting with CitizensPolice Officers Anthony Galiazzi, Charles Holland and John Williamson work for the Camden Police Department.  They objected to the department’s “directed patrols” policy because they believed it violated New Jersey’s anti-quota law.  Under Camden’s policy, police officers were required to speak to at least 18 (and in some instances at least 27) residents per shift for up to 15-20 minutes each.

Officers Galiazzi, Holland and Williamson objected to the directed patrols policy because they believed it violated New Jersey’s anti-quota law, which prevents police departments from requiring police officers to issue a minimum number of arrests or citations.  Among other things, they claim Camden retaliated against them in violation of CEPA by transferring them from the elite unit to regular patrol duty, reducing their salaries, taking away vacation, placing limits on their sick leave and having the Internal Affairs unit investigate them.

In an important employment law decision, last month the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that an employee can pursue a retaliation claim under New Jersey’s Conscientious Employee Protection Act (“CEPA”) even though his alleged whistleblowing activity has some relationship to his rights under the collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) between his employer and his union.

Arbitration Agreements GavelSalvatore Puglia worked for Elk Pipeline, Inc.  He was a union member who was subject to a CBA.  Mr. Puglia and one of his coworkers complained to their supervisor when the company cut their salary in half.  They eventually asserted that Elk was violating New Jersey’s Prevailing Wage Act, a wage and hour law that entitles certain employees assigned to public works jobs to be paid a specific legally-established minimum hourly rate.  Mr. Puglia also complained to the company’s president about this violation of law.

Eventually, Elk resumed paying Mr. Puglia and his coworkers their full salary.  However, the company failed to pay Mr. Puglia all of the back pay he was owed.  According to Mr. Puglia, when he objected about this the company’s president warned him to “either be quiet and keep [his] job or be laid off.”

A ruling opinion from the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey recognizes that an employee can be protected by New Jersey’s whistleblower law, the Conscientious Employee Protection Act (“CEPA”), even if her employer knew about the issue before the employee objected about it.

Employee Time CardJacqueline Martelack worked for Toys ‘R’ Us, Inc. as a cashier.  After she was promoted to become a Human Resources Department Supervisor, she told the employee who was training her that someone had been changing her time cards so she was not paid when she worked during her lunch break.  Toys ‘R’ Us investigated her allegations and eventually confirmed that she and her coworkers were not being paid during scheduled breaks that they did not actually take.  After the investigation, Toys ‘R’ Us paid the employees other than Ms. Martelack the wages they were owed for this unpaid work.

In the meantime, Toys ‘R’ Us told Ms. Martelack that she should stop reporting to her current store because it was going to transfer her to another location.  However, it did not assign her to work for two months, and she eventually concluded that she had been fired.  Ms. Martelack subsequently filed a lawsuit alleging in which she alleged, among other things, that Toys ‘R’ Us failed to pay her full hourly wage in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), and fired her in violation of CEPA.

A recent decision from New Jersey’s Appellate Division recognizes that the anti-retaliation provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) do not protect an employee who submits a false affidavit in support of a coworkers’ discrimination claim.

Witness testifiying under oath in discrimination lawsuitAriel Gonzalez, worked as a Detective for the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor.  In June 2012, he signed an affidavit in support of the Commission’s former assistant general counsel, Kimberly Zick, in connection with Ms. Zick’s discrimination lawsuit against the Commission under the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.  Ms. Zick’s case was dismissed in October 2012 because her allegations did not support her claims.

Shortly after Ms. Zick’s case was dismissed, the Commission began to investigate Det. Gonzalez regarding statements in his affidavit.  When the Commission interviewed Det. Gonzalez he again swore under oath that the statements in his affidavit were truthful.  The Commission then suspended Det. Gonzalez and brought disciplinary charges against him seeking to terminate his employment.

Political signEarlier this week, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment prohibits the government from demoting an employee because it incorrectly believed the employee had engaged in Constitutionally-protected political speech.

The case involves Jeffrey Heffernan, a police officer who worked for the City of Paterson, New Jersey.  In 2005, Lawrence Spagnola was running for mayor against incumbent Mayor Jose Torres.  Mayor Torres had appointed the Patterson Police Chief, James Wittig, tore his position.

At the request of his mother, Mr. Heffernan picked up a large sign supporting Mr. Spagnola for mayor that his mother wanted to put on her front lawn.  Other members of the Paterson Police Department saw Mr. Heffernan holding the sign while he was talking to members of Mr. Spagnola’s campaign staff.

New Jersey’s Appellate Division recently recognized the significance of the “blue wall of silence” to a whistleblower case involving a New Jersey police officer.

The plaintiff, identified as “T.D.,” is a police officer in the Tinton Falls Police Department. In 2008, one of T.D.’s fellow officers reported to the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office that a police sergeant had installed a device called a diverter at his home so his personal water use would not be recorded. Instead of investigating the sergeant, the Police Department began an Internal Affairs (“IA”) investigation to determine who had contacted the prosecutor, and then brought disciplinary charges against that officer. When T.D. learned about this he objected to the Department’s decision to discipline the officer who complained, but not to even investigate the sergeant’s apparent crime.

Police Officer whistleblowerIn March 2009, T.D.’s sergeant asked to meet with him outside a local dumpsite, where he told T.D. he should have warned him about the prosecutor’s investigation. T.D. indicated he believed doing so would have unlawfully interfered with the prosecutor’s criminal investigation. During the meeting, the sergeant also made disparaging comments about the officer who initially reported the water diverter, and told T.D. that “everyone should watch their backs.”

Yesterday, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that New Jersey’s whistleblower law, the Conscientious Employee Protection Act (“CEPA”), protects employees who blow the whistle about issues that relate to their job duties.

CEPA is a broad whistleblower law. It prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who, among other things, object to or refuse to participate in activities they reasonable believe are illegal, fraudulent, or violate a clear mandate of public policy relating to public health, safety, welfare or the environment. It also protects licensed medical professionals who object to or refuse to participate in activities they reasonably believe constitute improper quality of patient care.

On several occasions, New Jersey’s Appellate Division has ruled that employees are not protected by CEPA if their objections relate to their job duties. This threatened to dramatically limit the scope of CEPA’s protection since employees typically are in the best position to blow the whistle on activities related to their job functions.

Contact Information