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Big Win For Employers: NJ Supreme Court Affirms Limits on Employee Whistleblower Actions

On June 20, 2014 by Schnader in Labor and Employment

By Harris Neal Feldman

Employers benefit from a New Jersey Supreme Court decision finding that a former employee cannot maintain a whistleblower claim absent a reasonable belief that the employer violated a law, rule, or regulation. Such claims must minimally identify the specific authority for the alleged violation.

Under New Jersey’s Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA), a licensed health care professional may assert a whistleblower claim against his employer if he possesses a “reasonable belief that the employer’s conduct ‘constitutes improper quality of patient care.’”  In Hitesman v. Bridgeway, Inc. d/b/a Bridgeway Care Center, a nurse claimed wrongful termination based on allegations that he was a whistleblower regarding his employer’s improper quality of patient care.  To establish his claim, the nurse relied on: (1) a code of ethics that applied to him as a nurse but not his employer, and (2) nursing home internal policy documents that did not define acceptable patient care.  The Court ruled that such a claim cannot be maintained when it does not establish a violation of the law or the employer’s standard of conduct.

The Supreme Court affirmed last year’s decision by the N.J. Appellate Division, which was discussed in detail here.

The scope of whistleblower protection continues to be a hot issue in the New Jersey courts.  Check out our blog for further guidance on the courts’ interpretation of New Jersey’s whistleblower statute.