Whistleblower Retilation Legal Claims:
An employee who objects to, reports, or refuses to take part in illegal or hazardous employer practices, may be considered a “whistleblower.” The law protects such employees from retaliation by the employer for reporting or “blowing the whistle” on the employer’s illegal acts. The law also protects employees from retaliation where the wrongful acts complained of are violations of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“NJ LAD”), such as sex harassment or other forms of work place discrimination. Just as it is often said that “the cover-up is worse than the crime,” in the employment law field it is often true that the employer’s retaliation is easier to prove than the illegal act or discrimination that was objected to or reported by the complaining or “whistleblowing” employee.
Most large companies have policy manuals promising that employees’ complaints to management of harassment, discrimination, or almost any wrongful act in the workplace will not be the subject of any retaliation. But too often such promises are not kept, opening the door to legitimate and provable retaliation claims and large jury awards. The so-called “whistleblower” statute in New Jersey, the Conscientious Employee Protection Act (“CEPA”), N.J.S.A. 34:19-1, et seq., protects a wide range of employees’ complaints, and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“NJ LAD”), N.J.S.A. 10:5-1, et seq., offers still further protections against retaliation for employees complaining of workplace discrimination. But even where those two statutes fail to reach, a non-statutory body of common law, referred to as “Pierce” claims, protects employees who are terminated or otherwise retaliated against for objecting to employer practices deemed to be violative of a “clear mandate of public policy.” Such “Pierce” claims extend the law even further, but may be difficult to establish because of the need to prove such a “clear mandate of public policy.” But in each of these cases, extensive money damages for economic and non-economic loss (for emotional distress) are available, and sometimes even punitive damages. And court-awarded counsel fees available under the statutory claims may enable the plaintiff to keep the entire award paid by the employer. Such outcomes are not uncommon.