Pursuant to the New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act (hereinafter “CEPA”), N.J.S.A. § 34:19-1 to -14, an employer shall not:
Take any retaliatory action against an employee because the employee . . . [d]iscloses, or threatens to disclose to a supervisor or to a public body an activity, policy or practice of the employer, or another employer, with whom there is a business relationship, that the employee reasonably believes:
(1) is in violation of a law, or a rule or regulation promulgated pursuant to law.
[N.J.S.A. § 34:19-3(a)].
“CEPA was enacted in 1986 to protect from retaliatory action employees who ‘blow the whistle’ on employers engaged in illegal or harmful activity.” Blackburn v. United Parcel Service, Inc., 3 F.Supp.2d 504, 512 (D.N.J., 1998) (quoting Young v. Schering Corp., 141 N.J. 16, 23 (1995)). According to Klein v. University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, 377 N.J. Super. 28 (App. Div., 2005):
A prima facie case of retaliation under CEPA requires a plaintiff to demonstrate, in relevant part: (1) a reasonable belief that the employer’s conduct was violating either a law, rule, regulation or public policy; (2) he or she performed a “whistle blowing” activity as described in N.J.S.A. 34:19 a . . .; (3) an adverse employment action was taken against him or her; and (4) a causal connection existed between his whistle-blowing activity and the adverse employment action. Id. at 38. (citing Bowles v. City of Camden, 993 F. Supp. 255, 262 (D.N.J., 1998); Dzwonar v. McDevitt, 177 N.J. 451, 462, (2003); Kolb v. Burns, 320 N.J. Super. 467, 476 (App. Div., 1999).
Once the plaintiff establishes all the above prongs for a prima facie CEPA case, the burden then shifts to the defendants to “advance a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse conduct against the employee.” Klein v. University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, supra, 377 N.J. Super. at 38-39 (citing Zappasodi v. State, Dept. of Corrections, 335 N.J. Super. 83, 89 (App. Div., 2000); Kolb, supra, 320 N.J. Super. at 479)). If the employer advances a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its adverse employment actions, “plaintiff must then raise a genuine issue of material fact that the employer’s proffered explanation is pretextual.” Klein v. University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, supra, 377 N.J. Super. at 39 (citing Bowles, supra, 993 F. Supp. at 262; Kolb, supra, 320 N.J. Super. at 479).
Although CEPA claims should be liberally construed, “the whistle-blower legislation is not intended to shield a constant complainer who simply disagrees with the manner in which [his employer] is operating.” Klein, supra, 377 N.J. Super. at 42 (citing Young v. Schering Corp., 275 N.J. Super. 221, 237 (App. Div., 1994) (CEPA “was not intended to provide a remedy for wrongful discharge for employees who simply disagree with an employer’s decision, where that decision is entirely lawful.”)); See Also Blackburn v. United Parcel Service, Inc., 179 F.3d 81(3rd Cir., 1999) (New Jersey’s Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA) is not intended to shelter every alarmist who disrupts his or her employer’s operations by constantly declaring that illegal activity is afoot, or is about to be afoot.).