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Monday, March 7, 2022

NJ Whistleblowing Attorney, When Top-Tier Executives Experience Retaliation for Whistleblowing

People often assume whistleblowing employees to be lower or mid-level workers who complain about what they believe to be the employer’s illegal activities. In other words, it’s a David and Goliath fight. Upper-level executives may believe it to be their job responsibility to squash reporting about the employer’s illegal business practices, rather than having a duty to bring it to the attention of those higher in authority within the corporate structure. In fact, upper-level managers may experience retaliation when they object to their supervisor what they believe to be an illegal business practice. The person next in authority could even be the CEO and/or owner of the owner of the company.

In New Jersey, more upper-level managers and executives have become cognizant of their own civil rights protections under the legal umbrella the New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act, N.J.S.A. 34:19-1 et seq., (CEPA), the strongest whistleblower employee statute in the country. Top-tier executives, managers including Human Resource Managers  and corporate “watch-dogs” all have employment civil rights protections under CEPA. Human Resource Managers in particular may agonize over certain employer’s instructions which they believe to be violations of law (such as, “Don’t hire any applicants of a [certain] race.”). However, even Human Resource Managers, Compliance Officers and other employer “Watchdogs” are protected from illegal retaliation in NJ for their objecting to, reporting or refusing to comply with what they reasonably believe to be their employer’s business practices that run contrary to law.

I have successfully represented executives and managers in whistleblower claims and was successful in recovering six figure settlement moneys for them. In one such case, the employer terminated the Manager of Human Resources who was in charge of hiring. The employer instructed the HR Manager to not hire persons of a certain race. When the HR Manager objected to this illegal business practice and refused to do so, the supervisor illegally harassed, gave a bad Employee Performance Evaluation and terminated the HR manager. Lamentably, this type of reaction happens more frequently than one might expect.

An upper-level manager may be hesitant to report illegal wrongdoing, thinking it to be nonsensical and ineffective, if according to the organization’s policy, the reporting must be made to an employee holding a specific position, when that employee is the person actually engaging in illegal acts. While the whistleblower employee should follow the company’s chain-of-command according to the employer’s policy as to whom and how such objections should be made, in some situations it may be senseless to do so.

As stated by the NJ Supreme Court in Fleming v. Corr. Healthcare Solutions, Inc., 164 N.J. 90 (2000) New Jersey’s whistleblower statute grants to employees the right to submit complaints of illegal or unethical workplace conduct to any individual defined as a "supervisor" in N.J.S.A. 34:19-2(d). CEPA provides, in part, that an employer shall not take any retaliatory action against an employee because the employee . . . discloses, or threatens to disclose to a supervisor . . .a policy or practice of the employer . . . that the employee reasonably believes is in violation of a law, or a rule of regulation promulgated pursuant to law.

The Court in Fleming further stated that, “Importantly, ‘supervisor’ is defined as any individual with an employer's organization who has the authority to direct and control the work performance of the affected employee, who has authority to take corrective action regarding the violation of the law, rule or regulation of which the employee complains, or who has been designated by the employer on the notice required under Section 7 of this act.” Fleming v. Corr. Healthcare Solutions, Inc., 164 N.J. 90, 97.

No Exceptions for Corporate “Watchdog Employees” under CEPA Statute

The New Jersey Supreme Court in Lippman  v. Ethicon, Inc., 222 N.J. 362 (2015) explicitly held, "There is simply no support in CEPA's definition of 'employee' to restrict the Act's application and preclude its protection of watchdog employees.” Lippman v. Ethicon, Inc., at 381.

Under the NJ law, CEPA, a worker whose job it is to be a “watchdog” for his employer and reports to employer if any illegal activity is occurring at the workplace or in conjunction with the employer’s business, the watchdog employee still has the right to pursue a whistleblower claim if there is employer retaliation for his reporting such acts. There is no exception for employers to escape liability for retaliation against whistleblowers who are paid by the employer himself to be the employer’s watchdogs themselves.The text of this statute, N.J.S.A. 34:19-1, defines what type of retaliatory action is prohibited and  states in part as follows: 34:19-3. Retaliatory action prohibited:

An employer shall not take any retaliatory action against an employee because the employee does any of the following: Objects to, or refuses to participate in any activity, policy or practice which the employee reasonably believes, (1) is in violation of a law, or a rule or regulation promulgated pursuant to law.

If you quit your job, you may lose right to prevail in a lawsuit.

In many instances of discrimination, if you quit your job, you may lose right to prevail in a lawsuit unless you first take certain legally required measures to preserve your job while you are still employed. If you are thinking of quitting, or think you will be fired, you should contact this office immediately to discuss your options in the safest way for you.

What You Can Do

I am an aggressive and compassionate employment law attorney who is experienced in successfully representing persons who were whistleblower employees and was successful in recovering multiple six figure settlement moneys for them. If you are thinking of resigning, or think you will be fired, or have been fired, it is important that you consult with an attorney who is experienced in whistleblower law.

If You Complained about What You Reasonably Believed to Be Your Employer’s Illegal Practices and Your Employer Retaliated               

Do not sit on your rights, or you may lose the right to file your claim. If you think you have been retaliated against for complaining about or reporting to your employer what you believe are your employer’s illegal practices, it is essential for you to contact an experienced, competent and successful whistleblower attorney who will be aggressive about enforcing your rights as soon as possible.

If you have been demoted, had your hours cut, terminated, harassed or been subjected to retaliation for complaining about, objecting to, refusing to participate in, or reporting what you believe is your employer’s illegal or improper conduct, you should contact this law firm as soon as possible. I am an experienced and compassionate employment attorney who will be aggressive about enforcing your rights. I am successful in bringing whistleblower lawsuits against governmental entities and private employers and recovering money for whistleblower workers.

If you are being subjected to such unlawful workplace retaliation, contact Hope A. Lang, Attorney at Law today for a free consultation. I accept whistleblower and discrimination cases from all over New Jersey.

New Jersey employment attorney, Hope A. Lang, Attorney at Law serves clients throughout the state, including Bergen, Middlesex, Essex, Hudson, Monmouth, Ocean, Union, Camden, Passaic, and Morris Counties with locations in Southern, Central, Western and Northern NJ to meet with clients.

 


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