An April 2011 decision of the New Jersey Appellate Division affirmed the policy behind CEPA violation claims and allowing an employee to proceed on his whistleblower claim. Hester, a Caucasian male, former employee at the Winslow Township Board of Education (Board), claimed that the Board violated the Conscientious Employee Protection Act, when a member of its school board began issuing poor job performance evaluations to Caucasian employees.
The Court explains that a CEPA violation exist where four factors have been established: (1) an employee reasonably believed his or her employer's conduct violated a law, rule, regulation pursuant to law or public policy mandate; (2) he or she performed a "whistle-blowing" activity ( N.J.S.A. 34;19-3[ ]); (3) an adverse employment action was taken against the employee; and (4) a causal connection exists between the whistle-blowing activity and the adverse employment action. The core issue discussed by the Court was whether the initiation of a civil action was considered a whistle-blowing activity in light of the facts of the present case.
Hester alleged that the Board discriminated against him in violation of his civil rights (racial discrimination by a public body is contrary to law). Hester first submitted a reverse discrimination claim to the District's Director of Human Resources and later filed a civil complaint. Hester's employment was terminated five weeks after his fourth annual contract had been signed; nine days following the service of the complaint. Based on these facts, the Court found that the first, third and fourth prongs of a CEPA violation had been met.
As to the second prong, an employer may not take retaliatory actions against an employee who discloses or threatens to disclose to a public body "an activity ... of the employer ... that the employee reasonably believes ... is in violation of a law...." N.J.S.A. 34:19-3a(1). Public body includes the Superior Court of New Jersey and that employer includes a board of education. The Court therefore concluded that the filing of a civil complaint against an employer alleging racial discrimination satisfies the disclosure to a public body requirement of the statute, and that the discrimination cannot be considered a private disagreement. The filing in such a case is, thus, whistle-blowing.
When termination follows a complaint, which is considered whistle-blowing, a CEPA claim may be triggered. If have been retaliated against due to filing a lawsuit or an EEOC Complaint or if you have participated in and/or objected to the actions of your employer, or participated in an investigation and as a result have been terminated, suspended or demoted, contact Mark Law Firm, LLC - employment attorneys specializing in Whistleblower claims.
If you have any questions regarding a CEPA violation, or any other employment matter, call Mark Law Firm, attorneys who specialize in employment law. Contact us at 908-626-1001 or 973-440-2311 or tell us your story by clicking the "contact us" page.