New Jersey’s Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA) is widely regarded as one of the most far-reaching whistle-blower laws in the country. The law is designed to encourage employees to report illegal or unethical workplace activities. It protects employees against retaliation if they bring attention to possible illegal activities.
If an employee comes forward with a report of suspected wrongdoing, even if you believe he is incorrect, be very cautious about disciplining the employee. Your best bet is to consult an attorney before you act.
The case: Talib Turner worked for a humane society in Newark as a clerk. Shortly before he was hired, a woman surrendered a Doberman pinscher because it had bitten her. She paid $205 for the facility to euthanize the animal.
Before the humane society put the dog down, an elderly woman came in to view adoptable dogs. She chose the Doberman. Turner, who noticed the dog’s history while processing paperwork, objected to his supervisor. He argued that releasing the animal amounted to fraud under New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act. But he was overruled, and the Doberman went home with the woman.
Nine days later, the woman died after the dog attacked her. Turner participated in the internal investigation. Two weeks later, the humane society fired him.
Turner sued, alleging he had been fired in retaliation for reporting possible illegal activity to his supervisor. The humane society said the law that Turner claimed it had violated didn’t technically cover it. Therefore, it argued, Turner wasn’t a whistle-blower.
The Superior Court said Turner qualified as a whistle-blower. It said what counts under CEPA is that the employee reasonably believed that his employer had engaged in illegal or unethical conduct, not whether it actually had. It ordered a trial. (Turner v. Associated Humane Societies, No. A-2604-06T2, Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, 2007)