The state of New Jersey’s senate is working on a bill already passed by the Assembly, that may protect whistleblowers. It forbids secrecy in some whistleblower lawsuit settlements involving government agencies or public officials. [Employment Law Group].
Assembly Legislators want all settlements publicly listed. Some people think this is a great idea. Lawyers may not be happy with it, because it also calls for disclosure of the amount paid to outside attorneys.
This bill came about because former prosecutor Bennett Barlyn claimed he was fired for complaining about an indictment. Barlyn said it was dropped for political reasons. The state didn’t handle that settlement well.
New Jersey has a strong whistleblower law known as the Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA). ELG says of CEPA, “It protects both public and private employees from retaliation for opposing or disclosing any unlawful activity.”
The bill came from Assemblyman John McKeon, a Democrat. Speaking about his reasons for the bill, he said [settlements of a] “serious nature should not be locked away in the dark.”
One issue is that payments are public money, yet secrecy prevents anyone discovering how much.
Another major issue is that with secrecy, whistleblowers are open to being stifled.
New Jersey is not the first state to tackle the problem of secrecy over settlements using public money. For example, seven years ago, the Nebraska legislature passed a law that made it more difficult for taxpayer-supported bodies to keep settlements secret. Then-Governor Dave Heineman signed that bill into law in 2010. As is often the case, this law came about after a “secret settlement” in a sexual harassment case. [The News Media & The Law]
Employment Law Group notes that “New Jersey is more protective of its whistleblowers than many other states, although California, Oregon, Massachusetts, and New York also rank highly. Overall, about 15 states bolster federal laws with measures that ban retaliation against both public- and private-sector employees who oppose wrongdoing.”