Overdue Volunteers Are Not Covered By New Jersey’s Whistleblower Law
In Sauter v. Colts Neck Volunteer Fire Company No. 2, a released viewpoint provided on September 13, 2017, a three-judge panel of the Appellate Division of New Jersey held that a complainant’s CEPA retaliation claim was appropriately dismissed because of that complainant was an unsettled volunteer fireman, and not a covered “worker” as specified by CEPA.
The complainant was a full-time worker of the Monmouth County Sherriff’s Office, as well as functioned as a volunteer member of Colts Neck Volunteer Fire Company No. 2. For his volunteer services, the complainant did not get any pay but was qualified to take part in the fire company’s Emergency Services Volunteer Length of Service Award Program (” LOSAP”). Under LOSAP, the complainant was entitled to get deferred settlement advantages, and had built up $5,871.71 in his LOSAP account over his twenty-plus year profession, which he would be qualified to get since age fifty-five.
The complainant had been a volunteer with the fire company for over twenty years when his subscription was ended after numerous of his fellow volunteer firemen, including his own sibling, lodged a protest versus him. The grievance originated from a series of actions the complainant took after discovering that he would not get a settlement for lawyers’ charges in a previous suit he brought versus the fire company. The fire company considered repaying him but found out that doing so might threaten their 501(c)( 3) status and decreased to take the threat. Right after learning he would not be compensated, he composed to the fire company’s insurance provider challenging a current claim as deceitful. He also reported to the fire company that a variety of volunteers used a fire company dumpster for their own personal garbage and required the fire company get an official legal viewpoint whether using the dumpster would also run the risk of the fire company’s 501(c)( 3) status. The complainant’s fellow volunteers implicated him of going “out on his own to mess up the company’s insurance claim … incorrectly declaring that the company purposefully tried to defraud the insurer … [and making] a pointless charge” concerning using the dumpsters. As an outcome of the problem, and after an examination, the complainant was ended and the general subscription of the fire company decreased to renew him.
The complainant took legal action against the fire company, declaring offenses of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (” LAD”), CEPA, and disparagement. Throughout the argument, the complainant withdrew his LAD claim and the trial judge dismissed the character assassination and CEPA claims, discovering that he was not a staff member under the law. The complainant appealed.
The question before the Appellate Division was whether the trial judge correctly concluded that unsettled volunteers are not workers for functions of CEPA.
The Appellate Division inspected the statutory text, and found that CEPA clearly specifies a secured “worker” as “any individual who carries out services for and under the control and instructions of a company for earnings or other compensation.”.
According to the Court, there was no question that the complainant carried out services for and under the control of the fire company. Had he done so “for incomes or another reimbursement?”.
The complainant argued that his involvement in LOSAP was enough as “reimbursement,” but the Court disagreed. It explained the advantages as an “award,” and found that the LOSAP advantages were “not  adequate settlement to change the voluntary nature of the services themselves.”.
Being comprehensive, the Court even evaluated the legal intent and function underlying the passage of CEPA. The Court highlighted that CEPA was created to “secure those ’employees’ who risk their incomes in reporting prohibited activities in the work environment.” Despite the broad meaning of staff member under CEPA, which courts have found to consist of independent specialists, “the Court has never ever recommended that an employer-employee relationship, the sine qua non to developing liability under the statute … might be found in the lack of settlement for services.” Even more, “None of complainant’s supposed ‘whistleblowing cases‘ activities postured the least hazard to his income for the basic factor that he was not ’employed’ as volunteer firemen.”.
Sauter shows that courts wanting to figure out the scope of statutory defenses are well-guided by the statutory text, and want to decrease invites of celebrations wanting to broaden securities in the name of broad therapeutic legislation. The text still matters. Therefore, specific people merely may not be entitled to defenses under state laws developed to manage employer-employee relationships. In New Jersey, for functions of CEPA, the line is drawn to consist of those people who get salaries or other compensation, and overdue volunteerism does not be adequate just because work is carried out.