Despite some of the strongest whistleblower protection laws in the nation, the New Jersey Superior Court’s Appellate Division recently ruled that a New Jersey man working for the New Jersey and New York Port Authority cannot sue for wrongful termination, based on his claims of being forced into retirement.
The appellant, Brian Sullivan, had been employed as an inspector at the Port Authority’s internal affairs unit in 2012 when he uncovered possible irregularities in the department’s promotional exam. Acting under the protections of the state’s Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA), he reported the problem to his superiors, which he claims led to harassment, discrimination and forced retirement. The lower court ruled that Mr. Sullivan could not sue the Port Authority, however, and would not allow the lawsuit to proceed. The initial ruling was based on the Port Authority’s ‘bi-state’ status for New Jersey and New York, making it immune from whistleblower protections applicable under only one of the states…in this case, New Jersey.
The appeal was based on filing under a New Jersey law
The particulars of why Mr. Sullivan felt he was forced into retirement were not part of the appeals arguments. At issues was whether he had a right to sue the Port Authority under New Jersey’s CEPA laws, since he was a New York resident at the time of the original lawsuit filing.
In the Appellate Division’s ruling to uphold the lower court’s decision, the Appellate Judges have determined that any employee working for a government body serving New York and New Jersey will have a difficult time filing a claim under either state’s independent whistleblower laws that may be in place.
Writing on behalf of the panel, Superior Court Judge Marie Simonelli wrote, “The laws of one state cannot be applied to the Port Authority without the other state’s consent.”
The legal ramifications of this ruling effectively means that employees working for any bi-state agency will lose all of New Jersey’s whistleblower protections. On a broader scope, it may affect employees working for any government agencies working across state lines to provide service efficiencies. Whether the case will move to the Supreme Court for final adjudication is yet to be seen.