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.