Articles Tagged with “Conscientious Employee Protection Act”

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On March 28, 2018, the New Jersey Appellate Division granted an appeal and reversed a trial court employment law decision which had granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant employer the New Jersey Department of Human Services and against the plaintiff employee, dismissing all of his claims. In the case of Jerry Dean Rivera v. State of New Jersey Department of Human Services. The case was argued by Maurice W. McLaughlin, Esq. and Maurice W. McLaughlin, Esq. and Robert Chewning, Esq. wrote the briefs.

The case involved an employee who filed a complaint against his employer for discriminating against him based on his “disabilities,” national origin, and race; retaliating against him for his reports of unfair and discriminatory labor practices; and creating a hostile work environment in violation of New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”), New Jersey’s Conscientious Employee Protection Act (“CEPA”), and the common law under Pierce v. Ortho Pharmaceutical Corp.

As with most discrimination cases, one of the major issues was determining whether the employee was performing the essential functions of his job. This issue required determining whether regular attendance was an essential function of the employee’s job, and, if so, what level was regained and whether the employer was required to accommodate the employee’s absences. The Appellate Division concluded that the employee should be given the opportunity to establish that he was able to perform all of his essential functions with a reasonable accommodation. Because no discovery was produced by the employer relating to whether it could have accommodated the employee’s absences either through a leave of absence or modified work schedule – combined with the fact that the employer’s overall size and other available positions – the employee was denied a fair day in court.

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New Jersey has several “tracks” for a government employee who is in civil service to fight when he believes he was wrongfully fired. The first, is in the Civil Service Commission, which can order reinstatement and back-pay. However, this process goes through the Office of Administrative Law and does not provide for a jury trial. The other way is to challenge the firing in the Superior Court, with the constitutional right to have a jury decide the employee’s case. Some statutes, such as the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination and the Conscientious Employee Protection Acts, provide for the award of punitive damages and attorneys fees.

The Conscientious Employee Protection Act (“CEPA”) is New Jersey’s whistleblower law. It protects whistleblowing employees. Employers may not retaliate in any way, whether through firing, harassment, demotion, or in any other manner because the employee has disclosed, objected to, refused to participate in or threatened to disclose a violation of law or public policy regarding public safety, or fraudulent acts. N.J.S.A. 34:19-1.

The New Jersey law had been that an employee could challenge his termination in the Civil Service Commission on the fact that the employer did not have a basis to discharge him, but not be foreclosed from also filing a whistleblower lawsuit under CEPA in Superior Court if she did not raise the retaliatory action before the Civil Service Commission.

The New Jersey Supreme Court, generally is one of the most protective courts of employees rights in the country, was recently issued an opinion by his employer which should give civil servants concern.
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The United States Supreme Court recently ruled that a fired employee can sue his employer for the harm he suffered from “cat’s paw discrimination” because of his membership in the Army Reserve. Federal and state courts have ruled that “cat’s paw” liability applies in a wide variety of other New Jersey discrimination.

The Cat’s Paw.

In Aesop’s Fables, a monkey convinces a cat to pull chestnuts from a fire. The monkey then eats them, leaving the cat with burnt paws and no chestnuts. A “cat’s paw” case happens when a decisionmaker has no intent to discriminate herself, but fires or penalizes in reliance on another employee’s input which was motivated by discrimination. It is sometimes been called “subordinate bias” because it holds the employer responsible for the discrimination or retaliation of someone below the decisionmaker.

The Supreme Court and Cat’s Paw Discrimination Against Members of the Armed Forces.

The United States Supreme Court recently allowed a hospital employee who was fired because of his Army Reserve service to sue for “cats paw” discrimination.
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