Powell v. Wachovia New Jersey’s Whistleblower Law Doesn’t Protect All Complaints
New Jersey’s Conscientious Employee Protection Act (“CEPA”) is New Jersey’s whistleblower protection law. CEPA provides perhaps the broadest and strongest legal protections in the country against whistleblower retaliation. However, it does not protect against all employee complaints that an employer is doing something it shouldn’t. In the recent case of Powell v. Wachovia Corporation, the Appellate Division of New Jersey’s Superior Court once again defined the outer limits of what objections are protected.
CEPA: New Jersey’s Conscientious Employee Protection Act, the “Whistleblower Law.”
Among other things, CEPA prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who object to or refuse to participate in an employer activity, policy or practice which they reasonably believe violates a law, regulation or public policy, or which is criminal or fraudulent.
Examples of objections which New Jersey courts have found to be protected be protected under CEPA include:
- New Jersey’s Supreme Court held that complaints about inadequate ventilation in a school shop affecting health and safety outlined in a guide incorporating regulations constituted clear mandate of public policy.
- New Jersey’s Supreme Court found that objections that police selectively refused to enforce laws regarding sex-industry was complaint of violation of law affecting public welfare.
- The Appellate Division held that objections to adoption of dog which had previously been violent impacted clear mandate of public policy to protect public from vicious dogs.
- The Appellate Division found that a grammar school custodian objecting to unsanitary conditions in a student lavatory constituted objection regarding clear mandate of public policy.
What Happened Between Powell and His Employer, Wachovia
James Powell was a “benefits producer” for several insurance companies which were eventually acquired by Wachovia. As a benefits producer, Powell’s job was to market, sell and place insurance policies provided by companies as employee benefits. Powell was an “at-will” employee. However, he and his fellow benefits producers at Wachovia’s Wayne, New Jersey, were compensated under a contract from 1993 which had long ago expired. Under this scheme, they were paid fifty per cent of the revenue they generated.