Whistleblowing, or the act of exposing illegal or unethical information or activities of a company or organization, can have serious consequences for the whistleblower, as one New Jersey Transit (NJ Transit) worker recently discovered.
Exposing NJ Transit Problems
NJ Transit’s first Chief Compliance Officer began his position in February 2017, with the task of identifying problems and weaknesses within the transit agency. With the ultimate goal of improving the agency, the compliance officer conducted investigations, including interviews with thousands of fellow employees.
When his report was delivered to senior executives at NJ Transit, the compliance officer alleges he was told to hide the information by marking it “confidential and privileged,” to avoid its publication under the New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act.
In addition to having his superiors shelve his report, the compliance officer alleges actions were taken to make his job virtually impossible to perform. The employee, who was paid $175,000 a year to be the Chief Compliance Officer, was given no budget, no computer, no phone line for his fax machine, and no office supplies.
Without these basic items, it would be nearly impossible for NJ Transit employees to confidentiality send their complaints to the compliance officer.
The compliance officer continued to shed light on problematic issues in the agency, despite warnings from his superiors to not “rock the boat” or put anything in writing.
During a June 2017 executive session, the compliance officer challenged the attorney general’s recommended amount for a legal expense reserve, which was set up to cover the fatal crash that occurred in Hoboken in 2016. While the compliance officer believed a legal expense reserve of $50 million was needed, the attorney general recommended a much lesser amount of $30 million.
Costs of Whistleblowing
Many of the issues exposed by the fired compliance officer were included in an independent audit of NJ Transit later ordered by Governor Phil Murphy. Other issues raised by the compliance officer that were highlighted in the audit were problems with customer communication, lack of strategic planning, and technology deficiencies.
The compliance officer believes his vocal exposing of the problems in NJ Transit, particularly his concern with the low legal reserve numbers, ultimately resulted in his termination from employment.
The compliance officer was demoted and eventually fired. NJ Transit contends the firing resulted from the employee’s use of a company car for personal errands. As a result of his termination, the compliance officer claims he is now facing bankruptcy, foreclosure on his home, and continued unemployment. Without insurance from his employer, he has been forced to enroll his son in the state’s public health insurance program.
Like other states, New Jersey provides protections from retaliation for whistleblowers through state and federal laws. While the compliance officer originally filed a whistleblower complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), he has dropped the complaint to focus on defending a state suit originally filed against him by the former Christie administration.
He will be relying on the state whistleblower law, the Conscientious Employees Protection Act, for his defense.
Marlton Employment Lawyers at McOmber McOmber & Luber, P.C. Represent Employees and Employers in Whistleblower Matters
Call our Red Bank office at 732-842-6500, our Marlton office at 856-985-9800, our Newark office at 973-878-9040, or contact us at 888-396-0736 or online for a free consultation. We represent clients throughout New Jersey.