Employees of private companies owe a duty of loyalty to their employers, meaning that they may not act in a way that directly damages or conflicts with an employer’s interests. Employers are often within their rights to terminate an employee who breaches this duty. At the same time, however, employees are in a unique position to bring legal violations by their employers to light. Employees who report wrongdoing by their employers are commonly known as “whistleblowers,” and laws at the state and federal levels offer them protection against retaliation, including termination. A New Jersey employment lawsuit, which was recently removed from an Essex County court to a federal court, involves discrimination and retaliation claims by a former executive. Chandler v. Honeywell Int’l, No. L-004230-17, complaint (N.J. Super. Ct., Essex Cty., Jun. 9, 2017), removed to No. 2:17-cv-06173, notice of removal (D.N.J., Aug. 16, 2017). The plaintiff alleges that the defendant hired her to address discrimination problems but actually only intended to use her “as a false shield to deflect…inquiry by third parties.” Id., complaint at 5.
The New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA), N.J. Rev. Stat. § 34:19-1 et seq., protects whistleblowers from retaliation and other adverse employment actions if they report legal violations by their employers. If an employee “reasonably believes” that an action or policy of their employer violates the law, or is otherwise fraudulent or criminal, CEPA prohibits retaliation against the employee for reporting the matter to a supervisor or government official. Id. at § 34:19-3(a). The statute also protects employees who testify or otherwise cooperate in an investigation of alleged wrongdoing by the employer, as well as employees who refuse to participate in acts that they reasonably believe to be illegal or fraudulent. Retaliation against employees for reporting suspected legal violations is also prohibited by the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD), N.J. Rev. Stat. § 10:5-12; the Civil Rights Act of 1991, 42 U.S.C. § 1981; and other statutes.
The plaintiff in Chandler began working for the defendant in July 2015 as the “Vice President, Organizational Development and Learning” in the company’s “Performance Material and Technologies business.” Chandler, complaint at 2. She alleges that the defendant consistently told her that it had hired her because of “a sincere desire to remedy” a pattern of “non diverse appointment of managers to its executive ranks.” Id. at 2-3. Once she began working for the defendant, however, she alleges that the company interfered with her efforts to do her job, including by questioning her qualifications and character. The defendant terminated her employment in December 2016, according to her complaint.
The defendant removed the lawsuit to federal court in August 2017 on the basis of federal question jurisdiction over the plaintiff’s cause of action for discrimination under § 1981, with supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claims. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1367. The complaint also alleges causes of action for violations of CEPA, wrongful termination in violation of the NJLAD, breach of express and implied employment contracts, and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. It also asserts common law claims for tortious interference with an employment relationship, promissory estoppel, fraud, and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
If you need to speak to a whistleblower lawyer about a dispute in New Jersey or New York, contact the Resnick Law Group today online, at 973-781-1204, or at 646-867-7997.
More Blog Posts:
New Jersey Court Allows Wrongful Termination Case Under FMLA and State Law to Proceed, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, September 28, 2017
Appellate Court Rules on Mixed-Motive Claim in FMLA Retaliation Case, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, September 22, 2017
Whistleblower Employees Receive Share of Settlement in New Jersey False Claims Lawsuit, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, August 21, 2017