On June 9, 2011, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that whistleblowers need not prove actual or constructive discharge to obtain lost wages under the Conscientious Employee Protection Act (“CEPA”), New Jersey’s whistleblower protection statute. The Court overturned the Appellate Division’s decision that we previously posted about last December
In Donelson v. DuPont Chambers Works, the plaintiff, John Seddon, worked at DuPont Chambers Works (“DuPont”) as an operator technician. His responsibilities included ensuring the safe operation of equipment and safe handling of toxic chemicals. After making a series of safety complaints to DuPont’s management and to the Occupational Health and Safety Commission (“OSHA”), Seddon began to receive negative performance reviews and verbal abuse from his managers. As a result, he took a short term disability leave of absence during which he received treatment from mental health professionals. Plaintiff eventually suffered a mental breakdown and never returned to work. DuPont provided him with a disability pension.
Seddon filed a lawsuit against DuPont alleging that it violated CEPA by retaliating against him for making safety complaints. The Appellate Division ruled in favor of DuPont, holding that a whistleblower must prove actual or constructive discharge before receiving an award for lost wages. The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed, and held that CEPA is a remedial statute that should be interpreted broadly to protect employees from any type of retaliatory action, regardless of whether the employee can prove actual or constructive discharge.
The New Jersey Supreme Court significantly expanded the scope of CEPA by permitting whistleblowers to establish claims for lost pay without proving an actual or constructive discharge. This decision should remind employers to address safety concerns raised by their employees and to train managers not to retaliate against employees who raise such concerns.