Potential Precedent-Setting Whistleblower Case in N.J. Supreme Court

The New Jersey Supreme Court is set to hear arguments in a potentially precedent-setting whistleblower case. A local group of employers are looking to lessen whistleblower protection, and thus lessen the chance of one of their employees blowing the whistle on their underhanded tactics.

The Employers Association of New Jersey contends that the NJ appellate decision allowing employees to sue under whistleblower protection laws puts employers in a bad position when those employers retaliate against their own employees for complaining or reporting violations of the law, regulation or public safety. Simply put, the employer group is arguing the broad ruling could open the door for any employee to sue under whistleblower protection if the employee’s recommendations aren’t heeded.

In Joel Lippman’s case against Ethicon and Johnson & Johnson (Ethicon’s parent company), the employer group argued that employees who sue under the Conscientious Employee Protection Act must show that their objection was to an activity which fell outside of their normal job duties, was illegal, or went against public policy.

Essentially, the Employers Association of New Jersey is trying to strip hardworking and honest employees of whistleblower rights in an effort to protect their own interests. The idea that an employee can’t raise any issues of violations of law, regulation or public policy pertaining to their everyday job functions is laughable. Their argument would allow them to punish or otherwise retaliate against moral and ethical employees. Notice that this employers group doesn’t deny the wrongdoing on the part of Ethicon, only that the employee shouldn’t have been protected by CEPA.

This case began in 2006 when Lippman, the former vice president of medical affairs for Ethicon, was fired for allegedly delaying products. Lippman said he raised concerns about safety and efficacy and recommended a recall. His case was initially dismissed in trial court, but in his appeal he argued that he is protected under CEPA because he was fired in retaliation for recommending the recall.

In a published report, the appellate division agreed with this stance, rejecting the notion that an employee’s job title or job duties should be considered under CEPA.

Whistleblower laws are in place to protect employees who complain in good faith about violations of laws or public policies. These laws help maintain a system of ethics and morality by employers who might try and cut corners or save cost by doing things the wrong way and then hoping to sweep it under the carpet. When honest employees blow the whistle on this wrongdoing, they are often rewarded with various levels of retaliation.

The State Supreme Court picked up this case in March. Should the justices uphold the appealed decision, the employment group disingenuously claims it fears that they will face a flood of litigation from a litany of newly protected employees under CEPA as a result. However since employees are only protected when their complaints about unlawfulness of these employers are based on a good faith belief, what they are actually trying to do is protect their own unlawful conduct and/or discourage their own employees from reporting their bad conduct.

However, experienced whistleblower attorneys strongly disagree with the fear-mongering tactics of the Employers Association of New Jersey and fully back the whistleblowing rights of all employees. The doomsday scenario painted by the Employers Association paints an extreme picture of employees looking for any reason to take legal action against their employers.

Generally speaking, whistleblowers are not out to get their employers. They are looking out for the best interests of the public and trying to do the right thing. Most whistleblowers are loyal employees trying to get their employers to act honestly and lawfully.

The qui tam attorneys at Begelman & Orlow, P. C. have more than 115 years of combined experience litigating whistleblower cases throughout the U.S. If you have knowledge of any fraudulent activity or wrongdoing, contact the whistleblower lawyers at Begelman & Orlow, P. C..

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