Q:  A store manager observes a customer neglecting her two year old child and reports the customer to the NJ Division of Child Protection and Permanency giving the agency the customer’s name and address (from store records) so that the agency can identify the customer.  The store fires the manager for violating its policy against employee disclosure of customer identification information.  Did the employer violate NJ’s whistleblower law when it terminated the employee?

A:  Recently, in Stapelton v. DSW, Inc., the employer asked the Court to dismiss the former employee’s whistle blower claim on these facts.  The Court refused to dismiss.  Under the Conscientious Employee Protection Act, NJ’s whistleblower law, it is unlawful for an employer to retaliate against an employee who objects or refuses to participate in an employer’s conduct if the employee reasonably believes that the conduct violates the law or a clear mandate of public policy related to public health, welfare or safety. Stapelton argued that the policy prohibiting her from disclosing the customer’s information would have prevented her from trying to protect the child and as such, she reasonably believed the policy violated a clear mandate of public policy regarding public health, welfare and safety.  The Court held that Stapelton had properly set forth a claim under NJ’s whistleblower law and allowed her to proceed with her lawsuit.  Stapelton is likely to win her whistleblower claim If she is able to prove that her belief was reasonable and that DSW fired her for violating the policy.
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