A former daycare center worker in New Jersey has filed suit against her former employer, alleging violations of the state’s whistleblower protection and anti-discrimination statutes. Pierce v. Woodbury Child Dev. Ctr., Inc., No. L-000216-16, complaint (N.J. Super. Ct., Gloucester Co., Feb. 19, 2016). According to media coverage of the case, the plaintiff claims that she was wrongfully terminated from her job after reporting alleged misappropriation of state funds. The Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA), N.J. Rev. Stat. § 34:19-1 et seq., prohibits retaliation against employees who report suspected illegal acts by their employers. The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD), N.J. Rev. Stat. § 10:5-1 et seq., prohibits retaliation in situations in which an employee complains of workplace discrimination and other unlawful acts.
New Jersey enacted CEPA in 1986 in order to protect employees from various types of “retaliatory action” by employers, defined to include “discharge, suspension or demotion…or other adverse employment action.” N.J. Rev. Stat. § 34:19-2(d). Employers may not retaliate against employees who engage in certain types of activity commonly known as “whistleblowing,” such as reporting, or threatening to report, activities, practices, or policies that the employee reasonably believes violate the law.
Based on the language of the statute, CEPA’s focus seems to be on illegal and fraudulent acts that adversely affect the government, shareholders, investors, customers, employees, and others to whom an employer might owe a duty of care. See N.J. Rev. Stat. § 34:19-3. The report may be internal, such as to a supervisor, or external, such as to a law enforcement agency or other public organization. A whistleblower may also be an employee who participates in an investigation of an employer, or who refuses to participate in an action that they reasonably believe is illegal or fraudulent.
The NJLAD also contains provisions that protect employees from retaliation by employers. It prohibits “reprisals” against employees who object to practices they reasonably believe are discriminatory, or who make an internal or external complaint of discrimination or other violations of the NJLAD. N.J. Rev. Stat. § 10:5-12(d). Both CEPA and the NJLAD allow employees and former employees to file private causes of action, and to recover back pay and other damages.
The plaintiff in Pierce reportedly began working for the defendant, a child care facility in Woodbury, New Jersey, in 2000 as an administrative assistant. Part of her job consisted of reviewing credit card bills and submitting them to the accounting department. In 2014, the plaintiff claims, she detected an increase in spending on one of the defendant’s credit card accounts. She alleges that she reported her findings, which suggested that the director was using the card for personal expenses, to her superiors on several occasions.
The defendant fired the director at some point after the plaintiff made her reports, but the plaintiff continued to express concerns about misappropriation of funds. She reportedly claimed that the defendant’s in-house accountant knew or should have known about the now-former director’s activities. The defendant’s retaliation began, the plaintiff claims, when a new director was hired in early 2015. Despite allegedly having no performance-related disciplinary actions against her from 2000 to 2015, the plaintiff claims that she was suddenly subject to repeated discipline. She was terminated in February 2015, reportedly for “alleged insubordination.” She filed suit one year later.
If you need to speak to a retaliation attorney regarding a matter in New Jersey or New York, contact the Resnick Law Group today online, at 973-781-1204, or at (646) 867-7997.
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Second Circuit Adopts Broad Definition of “Whistleblower” in Dodd-Frank Retaliation Lawsuit, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, October 20, 2015
SEC Awards Maximum Damages to Whistleblower Under Dodd-Frank Act, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, July 23, 2015