An appeals court reopened a whistleblower suit brought by a New Jersey detective. Jeffrey Scozzafava claimed he was penalized for complaining about errors made in the death investigation of a well-known New Jersey couple.
Detective claims mistakes damaged the case
Scozzafava was working as a forensics expert for Somerset County Prosecutor’s office. The department was investigating the 2014 deaths of Cooper Health CEO John Sheridan Jr. and his wife, Joyce Sheridan. Scozzafava complained another employee threw away bedding from the crime scene. He also told his superiors that doorknobs were not properly checked for fingerprints, and swabs of blood from the scene were not stored correctly.
After complaining, he was reassigned from forensics to fugitive apprehension. He received the same pay, so the trial judge ruled it did not qualify as an adverse action due to his whistleblowing.
Scozzafava allegedly told he was being put in the “penalty box”
Scozzafava argued that he joined the office to use his forensics skills. He had previously worked as a forensics instructor for the police. Scozzafava also stated he lost out on a significant amount of overtime in his new position. His vehicle was also changed from a Dodge Durango SUV to a Chevrolet Impala. His supervisor allegedly referred to his reassignment as the “penalty box.”
Appeals court agreed there was a whistleblower claim
The appeals court found these reasons significant enough to support a whistleblower claim. The court also stated the Conscientious Employee Protection Act must be applied broadly in these cases.
Conscientious Employee Protection Act protects workers
The New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act protects employees that disclose or threaten to disclose any practice, action or policy of their employer that violates regulations, rules or laws. The act prohibits any retaliatory action against employees who report. Retaliatory action is viewed as any demotion, discharge, suspension or other adverse employment action taken against the employee regarding his or her job.
New Jersey employees who feel they were retaliated against can file a lawsuit and seek damages for lost wages and benefits, as well as compensatory and punitive damages.