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When employee sues, beware whistle-blower add-on that alleges violation of public policy

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

New Jersey’s Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA) protects employees who blow the whistle on wrongdoing. That can include reporting conduct that the employee reasonably believes violates “a law, rule or regulation ... or a clear mandate of public policy.”

The employee doesn’t have to get very specific, especially claiming he blew the whistle on conduct that violates public policy.

Recent case: Robert Meyers, who worked as a music teacher in the Hoboken school system, sued over alleged age and disability discrimination. He added to his claims the general allegation that he was a whistle-blower. He said he had been punished for reporting that the school district allegedly issued paychecks to people who didn’t actually work in Hoboken’s schools.

The school district argued that Meyers never alleged any specific laws that his employer supposedly broke.

But the court sided with Meyers. It said the general allegation that he reported phantom workers fit into the public policy part of the CEPA. Surely, the court noted, paying individuals who perform no work violates public policy. (Meyers v. Hoboken Board of Education, et al., No. 07-5058, DC NJ, 2010)

Final note: Meyers’ CEPA claim was ultimately dismissed anyway. He never explained to whom he had reported or exposed the alleged illegal conduct. Nor could he show that he threatened his employer with exposure. If the employer didn’t know, it couldn’t have punished him for that activity.

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