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Whistleblower Law Blog

New Jersey Supreme Court Extends Whistleblower Protections to “Watchdog” Employees

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On July 15, 2015, in Lippman v. Ethicon, Inc., the New Jersey Supreme Court held that whistleblower protections under New Jersey’s Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA) extend to actions taken by employees as part of their normal job duties.

Dr. Joel S. Lippman was employed by Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (OMP) and Ethicon, Inc. as the World-Wide Vice President of Medical Affairs and Chief Medical Officer. Lippman, in his role as Medical Officer, was asked to provide his opinion about the safety of OMP and Ethicon’s products.

Lippman, after he was terminated from his high-level position, filed a retaliation claim under New Jersey’s Conscientious Employee Protection Act. The New Jersey trial court granted OMP and Ethicon’s motion for summary judgment, determining that disclosures Lippman made as part of his normal job duties were not CEPA-protected conduct.

The New Jersey Appellate Division reversed, concluding that “watchdog employees” such as Lippman are among those most in need of CEPA’s protection because their duties require them to report violations of law or regulations. The New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed, finding that “there can be no additional burden imposed on watchdog employees seeking CEPA protection.”

The New Jersey Supreme Court’s decision to extend whistleblower protections is a critical step in extending whistleblower protections under state law to thousands of employees who are required to report violations to their employers. Numerous federal statutes, including the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012, already protect federal employees who report violations as part of their normal job duties.

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