New Jersey’s Supreme Court has rejected a company’s claim that “watchdog employees” must act outside the scope of their regular job duties to be protected by the state’s whistleblower law.
Attorney Bruce McMoran represented a clinical trials director who claimed Ethicon, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, fired him in 2006 because he wanted to recall some of the company’s surgical products.
The court’s decision reaffirms that the Conscientious Employee Protection Act provides whistleblower protections for all workers, McMoran said.
“That’s clear in the language of the statute, which defines an employee as any individual, and that regardless of what your job duties are you have the same prima facie case obligations that any other employee has whether you’re a watchdog or not,” he said.
The president of the New Jersey Civil Justice Institute, an association of employers that lobbies on legal issues, said the ruling exposes a serious problem in whistleblower law and should be reviewed by the Legislature.
“It makes it very difficult to have an internal effective dialogue about the risk versus the benefit of bringing a product to market particularly in the pharmaceutical and medical device context,” said Marcus Rayner.
The ruling will make it difficult for companies to discuss candidly the risks and benefits of bringing products to market, he said.