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AN OUT OF STATE WORKER MAY BRING A CLAIM UNDER NEW JERSEY’S WHISTLEBLOWER LAW IF THE EMPLOYER IS HEADQUARTERED IN NEW JERSEY

New Jersey’s Whistleblowing Law is “remedial social legislation designed to promote two complementary public purposes: ‘to protect and [thereby] encourage employees to report illegal or unethical workplace activities and to discourage public and private sector employers from engaging in such conduct.”’ D’Annunzio v. Prudential Ins. Co., 192 N.J. 110, 119 (2007) (quoting Yurick v. State, 184 N.J. 70 (2005)). 

New Jersey’s public policy to protect whistleblowers is so strong that it even permits an employee working outside of New Jersey to bring a whistleblower claim alleging violations of New Jersey’s Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA). This is exactly what occurred in Moore v. Novo Nordisk, Inc., 2011 WL 1085015 (S.C. Dist. Ct. Mar. 22, 2011). There, Plaintiff Moore, a resident of South Carolina, worked as a sales representative for Novo Nordisk (“Novo”), a global pharmaceutical company, at one of Novo’s locations in South Carolina.  Novo maintains its United States corporate headquarters in Plainsboro, New Jersey.

Moore claimed she was told by a supervisor, who was also South Carolina resident, to give autographed basketballs to doctors to increase sales. Such an activity is a violation of the federal pharmaceutical marketing anti-kickback statute, 42 U.S.C. § 1320a-7b(b).  Moore did as her supervisor told her to do.  However, this unlawful kickback scheme came to the attention of Novo’s corporate counsel who conducted an investigated into the scheme and eventually questioned Moore about it. At first Moore lied to Novo’s corporate counsel denying her involvement, only to later admit she did gift autographed basketballs to doctors, but only at the direction of her supervisor. Moore was later fired by that same supervisor for admitting Moore’s role in the bribery scheme. Novo offered Moore a severance package in exchange for her waiving all legal claims she had against Novo.  Moore rejected this, and instead filed a lawsuit against Novo in the United States District Court of South Carolina alleging, among others, that Novo wrongfully terminated her employment in violation of New Jersey’s CEPA law.

Novo filed a motion before the federal district court seeking to dismiss Moore’s CEPA claim because Moore did not work in New Jersey and her firing had no connection with New Jersey. The District Court rejected Defendant’s argument, finding that “[t]he nexus between Plaintiff ‘s alleged injury and the State of New Jersey is that Novo, Plaintiff’s employer, is incorporated in New Jersey. Moore at pg. 5.  The district court citing for support to the New Jersey Supreme Court decision in Mehlman v. Mobil Oil Corp., 153 N.J. 163 (1998) (allowing CEPA action against new Jersey employer by employee who objected to a practice that violated another jurisdiction’s public policy and endangered that jurisdiction’s citizens), explained that, “[t]o accept Defendants’ argument would compel the conclusion that a national or multi-national corporation could establish headquarters in New Jersey, hire employees to work in every state except New Jersey, and then be exempt from the remedial purposes of CEPA.”  The district court also cited to several unpublished New Jersey appellate court cases demonstrating where New Jersey courts have consistently availed the protections of CEPA to employees of New Jersey companies who primarily worked outside of New Jersey in states such as New York and Pennsylvania. See Menth v. Heartland Ostrich Farm, 2011 WL 780884 Unpub. (N.J. App. Div. Mar.8, 2011) (New Jersey’s CEPA is controlling choice of law over Pennsylvania’s whistleblower statute where the defendant employer is headquartered in New Jersey).

If you have suffered retaliation at the hands of your employer for having disclosed, objected to, or refused to engage in conduct you reasonably believe violates the law, public policy, or is fraudulent in nature, then you are urged to immediately contact Mashel Law at (732) 536-6161 or fill out the contact form on this page for immediate help.  Don’t delay in doing so, as an employee must bring a whistleblower lawsuit under New Jersey’s CEPA law no later than one year from the date he/she suffered retaliation in the form of a termination, suspension, loss of pay or other form of adverse employment action.