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How New Jersey’s Law Protecting Whistleblowers May Help You… Even if You Didn’t Work in New Jersey

Many states understand the importance of protecting workers who speak out to expose illegal activities going on inside their workplaces. No state does more to protect these workers — known as “whistleblowers” — than New Jersey. This state’s Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA) is arguably the most worker-friendly of all the states’ whistleblower laws. If you’ve incurred retaliation because you reported illegal conduct (or actions you believed to be illegal,) then you should contact a New Jersey whistleblower protection lawyer and discuss your options.

One very important thing to know, as a recent Appellate Division case illustrates, is that you don’t have to have worked in New Jersey to have a potential whistleblower case.

In that case, S.H. was a laboratory scientist who took a job as the “night clinical supervisor” at a medical laboratory in Houston. An inspection in April 2016 uncovered multiple deficiencies, including issues related to the review and signing of quality control (QC) documents. Further investigation in August exposed continuing problems with the QC issue, as well as “the creation of various standard operating procedures (SOPs.)

In September, problems remained. S.H. emailed a Quality Systems (QS) Department supervisor to advise her about ongoing issues. These included instruments returning “vastly different results” and SOPs that were “not up to date and do not match the facility.” S.H. also asserted that patient results were inaccurate and she “did not feel ‘comfortable releasing results nor confident that the patients are receiving valid results and quality care.'”

After the employee sent that email, a senior director (who was based at the company’s New Jersey headquarters) traveled to Texas and allegedly criticized S.H. for sending the email, telling her that she should not report problems to the QS Department. The director also told the clinical supervisor “to be a team player, and not be penny wise and pound foolish,” according to the lawsuit. Additionally, managers allegedly instructed S.H. to sign QC documents for periods prior to her employment with the lab.

What You Need for Success in Your CEPA Case…

A few months later, the lab fired S.H., and the clinical supervisor sued under the CEPA. Generally, a successful CEPA claim involves four key evidentiary elements. These include proof:

  • That you reasonably believed that your employer’s conduct violated the law, regulations, or public policy,
  • That you engaged in a qualifying act of whistleblowing activity,
  • That you incurred an adverse employment action, and
  • That your whistleblowing caused the adverse action.

S.H. had two different bases for asserting a CEPA claim. One was that she reported lab practices that violated federal law (specifically, the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments of 1988.) The other was that she refused to sign the QC forms because she believed doing so would constitute a violation of the law. Both were viable bases for a CEPA cause of action, according to the Appellate Division court.

…and What You Don’t

S.H. had a seemingly major hurdle in her case, though: she had spent her entire professional career (including her entire time with the defendant) in Texas. Nevertheless, she was able to pursue a CEPA case in New Jersey state court, even without having ever worked a day here.

The court had to decide whether to apply New Jersey law (CEPA) or Texas law. The appeals court, in siding with the worker, determined that the “CEPA is sufficiently broad to extend to plaintiff as an employee of a New Jersey corporation that is also headquartered in this State,” even if she lived out of state and performed the entirety of her work out of state. Specifically, the court, in pointing out that New Jersey’s CEPA is “the most “far-reaching ‘whistleblower statute’ in the nation,” declared that given “CEPA’s broad remedial purposes and inclusive text, and our obligation to construe the statute liberally to effectuate its important social goal of protect[ing] and encourag[ing] employees to report illegal or unethical workplace activities and to discourage . . . employers from engaging in such conduct,” we are convinced the Legislature did not intend to limit the statute’s protections to only employees who live and work in New Jersey.”

So, even if you’ve never set foot in our great Garden State, you may still be entitled to compensation under the CEPA. Of course, your chances of success — especially from long distance — will only be enhanced with a knowledgeable New Jersey lawyer advocating for you. The experienced New Jersey whistleblower protection attorneys at Phillips & Associates are here to provide clients with powerful and effective strategies, along with positive results. Contact us online or at (833) 529-3476 today to set up a free and confidential consultation to discuss how we can serve you.

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