New Jersey’s Conscientious Employee Protection Act (“CEPA”) employees from being fired for objecting to or refusing to participate in conduct which the employee reasonably believes to be illegal or against public policy. If the employee is wrongfully retaliated against, CEPA provides a remedy through litigation. Also known as the “whistleblower law,” CEPA is one of the most strongest employee protection laws in the country. However, since it was enacted in only 1986, courts continue to disagree as to the exact scope and extend of the law.
In the recent case of Trzaska v. L’Oreal USA, Inc., the employee, Steven Trzaska claimed that he was fired in retaliation for his refusal to take actions which he believed violated the Rules of Professional Conduct (“RPC”). RPCs set forth the rules for ethical conduct which although must follow, and, in fact, an attorney may lose his license to practice law if certain rules are not followed. In the Trzaska case, L’Oreal had issued a quota or mandate for Mr. Trzaska to prepare a certain number of patent applications. Mr. Trzaska advised that he would not file any patent application unless he had a good faith believe that the product was patentable. Mr. Trzaska was fired thereafter and he filed a lawsuit in the District Court.
The United States District Court for the District of New Jersey then dismissed Mr. Trzaska’s case in the early stages requiring that the RPCs did not meet CEPA’s requirements that the employee object to or refuse to participate in illegal conduct. CEPA’s language