When someone reports the wrongdoings or illegal activity of an employer, this is typically called a whistle-blower action. Whistle-blowers are protected from being retaliated against by their employers under federal and state laws. Retaliation might include firing the worker for speaking up, demoting him or her or creating a hostile work environment.
A cruise company in New Jersey has recently been accused of creating such a hostile work environment that an employee was forced to resign. The employee, a deckhand, filed a class action wage complaint against the employer in 2009. After the complaint was filed, the cruise company cut the hours of workers and posted a memo explaining that this was a direct result of the employee's legal complaint. The employee was then harassed by his co-workers until the situation became so unbearable that he quit.
A New Jersey trial court later dismissed the man's wage complaint and ruled that the hour-slashing memo was not an adverse employment action because it was not a personnel activity that directly impacted the plaintiff's job.
The man filed a civil appeal and a New Jersey appeals court ruled this week to reverse the dismissal of the wage complaint and it also found that the trial court erred when deciding that the man was not subject to an adverse employment action, or retaliation.
The appeals court stated that not only did the man suffer retaliation by sustaining reduced hours and a hostile work environment because of the employer's memo, but that the employer's punishment of the man's co-workers constituted third-party retaliation.
The details of this case are quite complicated, but this case teaches workers at least two simple things. One: employees who are retaliated against in the workplace have the right to pursue legal recourse. Two: if a court does not rule in favor of the employee, this does not mean the case is over. Filing a civil appeal is often a wise decision that results in a favorable outcome for a mistreated worker.
Source: New Jersey Law Journal, "Company's Tying Work-Hour Cut to Wage Complaint Supports CEPA Suit," Mary Pat Gallagher, Nov. 14, 2012
- Our law firm handles employment law cases as well as various types of civil appeals. More information is available on our New Jersey Employment Law page.