New Jersey’s whistle-Blower law sets tough burden for employers

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in Employment Law,Firing,Human Resources

The Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA) prohibits retaliation against New Jersey employees who bring to light illegal or unethical workplace practices.

Employees can recover damages if (1) they can show they reasonably believed the employer violated a law or regulation, (2) they reported the activity to the appropriate authority and (3) they suffered an adverse employment action because of the whistle-blowing.

Employers can win if they can show they would have taken the same employment action against the employee whether or not the whistle-blowing occurred. That’s no simple task: Employers must show they punished other employees just as harshly for breaking rules unrelated to whistle-blowing.

Recent case: Anthony Tortorella, a police officer in Orange, witnessed fellow officers beating and killing a suspect. At first, Tortorella didn’t cross the “thin blue line” and lied about what he saw. But later he testified truthfully to a federal grand jury.

The city fired Tortorella for initially lying. He sued, alleging the discharge stemmed from his testimony. The city wanted the case dismissed, arguing it had a legitimate reason for firing him. But it couldn’t show it had terminated others for the same conduct, so the case will go to trial. (Tortorella v. City of Orange, No. 02-4819, DC NJ, 2007)  

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