Attorneys appearing before the New Jersey Supreme Court on Tuesday tried to sell competing views on the reach of the state’s whistleblower law for watchdog employees whose responsibilities include voicing concerns about product safety or other important issues.
The court heard hotly anticipated arguments in Joel Lippman’s suit claiming that Ethicon Inc. breached the Conscientious Employee Protection Act by firing him because he pushed for recalls of allegedly dangerous products. The state Appellate Division reversed summary judgment for the Johnson & Johnson Inc. subsidiary in September 2013, finding that an employee’s job duties shouldn’t be “outcome determinative” on whether he or she can bring a claim under the statute.
The statute shouldn’t be construed to cover just the expression of a concern about safety or compliance in the midst of a deliberative process, according to Adam N. Saravay of McCarter & English LLP, who is representing the New Jersey Business & Industry Association and New Jersey Civil Justice Institute.
“This careful choice of language allows room for companies to develop these robust decision-making, deliberative processes without concerns that, by doing so, they’re creating potential CEPA liability for themselves based on a free exchange of opinions,” Saravay said.