A few weeks ago, a New Jersey employment law case that sounded more like a soap opera than a dispute between a high-level executive and a multi-million-dollar corporation came to a close. Love triangles! Revenge! Money! This case had it all.
In the early to mid-2000s, Dr. Joel S. Lippman was the World-Wide Vice-President of Medical Affairs and Chief Medical Officer at Ethicon, Inc., a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson. His job involved reviewing safety issues with Ethicon’s products, and bringing serious issues to the attention of the company’s executives, who would then decide whether the company needed to issue a recall notice or take the product off the market entirely.
In 2006, Ethicon fired Lippman. The company alleged that Lippman had an inappropriate relationship with a coworker in violation of company policies. At trial, witnesses testified that Lippman and a woman he supervised were romantically involved, and that Lippman might have given that woman preferential treatment over another employee who had a crush on the woman.
Lippman claimed that Ethicon used the relationship as an excuse to fire him because he was bringing forward numerous safety problems with the company’s products around that time. Addressing those problems would cost the company a great deal of money. Lippman contended that Ethicon fired him to stop him from bringing safety issues forward. He filed a whistleblower retaliation lawsuit against the company under the New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA).
CEPA protects employees who reveal information to a supervisor or the government about, or object to, or refuse to participate in conduct the employees reasonably believe is in violation of a law or public policy. In short, the law is basically a promise that if you see something fishy and report it, complain about it, or refuse to go along with it, you cannot be fired for doing so.
Dr. Lippman’s case is important because it made clear that employees whose job is to raise compliance issues are still protected from retaliation for whistleblowing. His case went all the way up to the New Jersey Supreme Court, and the justices ruled that people like Dr. Lippman who are “watchdog employees” whose job it is to raise legal issues can bring whistleblower retaliation lawsuits. If your job is quality control or compliance, or you are otherwise responsible for protecting the well-being of your fellow employees or the public at large, you should not be afraid to do your job.
No matter what your job title or description, if you think you were fired because you raised issues about conduct you thought was illegal, you should contact the whistleblower attorneys at Lenzo & Reis, LLC to be compensated for the harm you have suffered.