In a recent lawsuit before the Superior Court of New Jersey in Hudson County, a jury unanimously awarded $2.1 million in punitive damages to a hospital lab technician after finding his employer retaliated against him for having reported “improper blood bank staffing and management procedures” in violation of New Jersey’s Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA), N.J.S.A. § 34:19-1, et seq. This blog posting summarizes the allegations in Doculan v. Bayonne Medical Center, No. HUD-L-6670-10 (Law Div. May 7, 2013). This verdict is yet another wake-up call for employers faced with whistleblower claims.
Jury verdict. On May 7, 2013, a unanimous jury awarded Doculan $80,000 for lost wages, $60,000 in pain and suffering, and, significantly, $2.1 million in punitive damages. (Although New Jersey law, N.J.S.A. 2A:15-5.14(c), caps punitive damages at five times the amount of compensatory damages or $350,000, whichever is greater, it exempts CEPA.) BMC has stated that it plans to appeal the verdict.
Implications. This award highlights the serious risks NJ employers face under the CEPA. And for multi-state employers, this verdict exhibits the recent national trend of juries awarding multi-million dollar judgments in favor of whistleblowers. Accordingly, employers must carefully review and refine their whistleblower policies and attendant practices.