New Jersey Court Defines Evidence Needed to Show a Public Policy in a CEPA Claim 

If an employee feels his or her employer has taken adverse employment action against them in retaliation for whistleblowing, the employee can file a civil claim against the employer under the New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA). For an employee to prevail on a CEPA claim, they must prove several components, one of which is to show they reasonably believed the employer’s conduct violated a law, regulation or public policy.

As recently set forth by a New Jersey Appellate court, when an employee alleging a CEPA claim based on a violation of a public policy fails to identify a source of authority setting forth the policy he or she believed the employer allegedly violated, it can be fatal to the employee’s claim. If you suspect your employer took adverse employment action against you in retaliation for whistleblowing activity, it is in your best interest to meet with an experienced New Jersey whistleblower attorney to discuss the facts of your case and whether you may be able to pursue damages.

Facts Regarding Employee’s Employment

Allegedly, the employee received a copy of a letter discussing two of his co-workers’ escorting civilians at a high speed without authorization. He gave a copy of the letter to his supervisor, who told the employee that the letter did not exist and told the employee not to bring it up again. The supervisor did not explicitly direct the employee to destroy the letter, but the employee understood he was being advised to dispose of it.

Additionally, the employee had a conversation with his supervisor, in which the employee implied that the supervisor forged his time sheets. The employee did not report his suspicions regarding his supervisor’s time sheets to anyone else. The employee was subsequently denied a promotion and transferred to another city, which he alleged were adverse employment actions taken due to his discussions with his supervisor regarding the letter and time sheets. He filed a CEPA claim against his employer, alleged that he was retaliated against for his objection to and refusal to take part in activity which he believed violated a law or policy.

Procedural History

Reportedly, the employer filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing the employee failed to set forth evidence showing he reasonably believed the employer violated a law, regulation or policy. The court denied the employer’s motion for summary judgment, as well as a subsequent motion for reconsideration. A jury trial was held and the jury returned a verdict in favor of the employee. The employer moved for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict or a new trial, both of which the court denied. The employer subsequently appealed.

Proving a Violation of a Clear Mandate of Public Policy

On appeal, the court noted that to establish retaliatory action under CEPA, an employee must show: a reasonable belief the employer violated a law, rule, regulation, or clear mandate of public policy; the employee engaged in whistleblowing activity; an adverse employment action; and, a connection between the whistleblowing and adverse employment action. The court noted that to satisfy the first element, an employee does not need to show an actual violation, but must produce the authority that he or she reasonably believes the employer violated. In this case, the employee alleged that the employer violated a clear mandate of public policy, but did not identify any authority showing the policy the employer allegedly violated. The court further explained that to prevail on his CEPA claim the employee must show a clear expression of the public policy allegedly violated. As the employee did not produce any source of law or authority defining the public policy reportedly violated, the court found the employer was entitled to summary judgment. The court vacated the verdict and reversed the order, denying the motion for summary judgment.

Meet with an Experienced New Jersey Whistleblower Attorney

If your employer took adverse employment action against your after you reported illegal activity, you may be able to pursue a claim for damages. It is in your best interest to meet with a knowledgeable whistleblower attorney to help you formulate a plan for seeking compensation. The New Jersey Whistleblower attorneys of The Jaffe Glenn Law Group will advise you of any obstacles to your recovery and work diligently to help you seek a favorable outcome under the facts of your case. Contact our office at 201-687-9977 or via our online form to set up a free and confidential meeting.

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