New Jersey employment laws protect whistleblowers who report alleged wrongdoing by their employers or who cooperate in investigations by providing evidence or testimony. Information provided by employees and others with knowledge of the inner workings of a business or organization is invaluable in helping law enforcement investigations of suspected unlawful activity. Many would-be whistleblowers hesitate to come forward, however, for fear of losing their jobs or facing other consequences in the workplace. Laws like New Jersey’s Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA) prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who engage in certain protected activities. A lawsuit filed in late 2020 alleges that a New Jersey labor union retaliated against the plaintiffs for their support of a corruption investigation, along with other whistleblowing activities.
CEPA prohibits employers from taking “retaliatory action” against employees who engage in certain activities. The statute defines “retaliatory action” as an “adverse employment action taken against an employee,” including termination. N.J. Rev. Stat. § 34:19-2(e). Activities protected by CEPA include:
– Reporting, or threatening to report, activity that an employee reasonably believes is in violation of civil, administrative, or criminal law to a supervisor or government agency;
– Providing evidence or testimony to a government agency as part of an investigation of alleged unlawful activity; and
– Refusing to participate in an activity that the employee reasonably believes violates a civil or criminal statute or administrative rule, is otherwise fraudulent, or constitutes a threat to public safety or the environment. Id. at § 34:19-3.
The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) prohibits retaliation against employees who report or oppose unlawful acts by their employers. It also prohibits derivative retaliation against employees who have “aided or encouraged any other person” asserting their rights under the law. Id. at § 10:5-12(d).
The plaintiffs in the case mentioned above claim that their former employer spied on them and eventually fired them because of their support of a whistleblower who, in 2017, reported alleged embezzlement by a senior manager to law enforcement. Information provided by the whistleblower led to the manager’s indictment for embezzlement. The plaintiffs also state in their complaint that they supported the whistleblower in efforts to fight unlawful discrimination on the basis of race and gender in the workplace.
The employer fired the whistleblower in May 2018, and the whistleblower filed suit under CEPA in October 2018. The parties settled the lawsuit in early 2019. The plaintiffs allege that the employer began retaliating against them around the same time that it fired the whistleblower. This included demotions, public disclosure of their role in the whistleblower investigation, dissemination of false rumors, and other actions intended to undermine their roles in the organization. The employer fired all of the plaintiffs in early 2020, allegedly using the COVID-19 pandemic as a pretext.
The lawsuit asserts causes of action for retaliation under CEPA and NJLAD. Two claims — derivative retaliation under CEPA and retaliation under NJLAD — are alleged on behalf of all of the plaintiffs. A third claim for retaliation under CEPA applies to two of the plaintiffs, based on their roles as trustees of funds managed by the employer, and therefore their specific responsibility to report suspected corruption.
If you are involved in a dispute with an employer in New Jersey or New York, the employment attorneys at the Resnick Law Group are available to help you. Please contact us today at 973-781-1204, at 646-867-7997, or online to schedule a confidential consultation to discuss your case.