Articles Posted in CEPA

New Jersey maintains a strong public policy in protecting employees who speak out against the employer’s for engaging in unlawful business activities.  The law recognizes that employers are responsible when they try to silence and hurt persons who oppose workplace conduct or activities that endangers people in the workplace and the public at large.  However, while New Jersey law clearly provides for immense legal protections for employees against workplace retaliation, this does not mean anyone who is fired for complaining to his or her employer will be successful in a claim for wrongful termination.

New Jersey first enacted its state whistleblower law, the New Jersey’s Conscientious Employee Protection Act (“CEPA”) in 1986. CEPA is broad in scope and considered as one of the farthest reaching state whistleblower laws in the entire country. CEPA is remedial legislation and is entitled to liberal construction by our courts.

Under of New Jersey’s whistleblower law, a worker cannot be terminated for opposing or refusing to participate in unlawful or certain other improper conduct of the employer.  By placing stiff penalties upon employers who violate the whistleblower law, the New Jersey anti-retaliation statute tries to discourage employers from engaging in illegal or unethical workplace activities.  The state law applies to private and public employers and employees.  It also can apply to independent contractors in certain circumstances depending on the specific facts and circumstances of the business relationship.

The New Jersey Appellate Division has overturned a trial court’s decision dismissing a Somerset County detective’s whistleblower lawsuit that stems from complaints he made regarding improper evidence collection and casework by the forensic unit and his supervisor.  The case was previously dismissed by the trial court who found that the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office’s actions in transferring the detective from the forensic unit to the fugitive squad did not amount to an adverse employment action required under the New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act (“CEPA”) “whistleblower” law.

The Appellate Division disagreed with the trial court and has ordered the case to move forward to the discovery phase.  The plaintiff in the case, Jeffrey Scozzafava, began working in the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office forensic unit in 2007.  Prior to his employment with the Somerset County Prosecutor’s office, Mr. Scozzafava was employed as a forensic detective with the New Jersey State Police Crime Scene Investigation unit.  In the lawsuit, Mr. Scozzafava alleges that he made several complaints regarding poor evidence collection and inadequate casework completed by the Unit (which included his supervisor) and that he was retaliated against by his employer in response to those complaints.

Specifically, Mr.  Scozzafava contends that his supervisor’s decision to move him out of the forensic unit to the fugitive squad amounts to an adverse employment action. Mr. Scozzafava alleges that his supervisor told Mr. Scozzafava that “Everybody does time in the penalty box” when they discussed the job transfer.  In the new role, Mr. Scozzafava was no longer able to earn overtime compensation and his office car was downgraded. Mr. Scozzafava also claims that as a result of the transfer, he was no longer able to utilize the skills and knowledge he had gained in his experience and study of forensic detective work.  This was particularly demeaning to him because he had developed extensive expertise in the field in addition to having earned a proven reputation as an expert.