A former DSW employee has filed suit against the company after she was terminated for accessing a customer’s private information. Mary Stapleton, an assistant manager at a DSW in Cherry Hill, NJ, was promptly fired after her HR department discovered that she had taken a customer’s name and address from their system and provided it to the New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency in order to file a complaint.
During one of Ms. Stapleton’s shifts in March of 2012, a woman came into DSW with her 22-month old daughter. The woman proceeded to shop for hours while her daughter ran about the store unattended, damaging products and harassing other customers. The young girl was clearly in need of a diaper change, but when Ms. Stapleton suggested this to the woman, she appeared confused and continued shopping. After witnessing the woman threaten to hit the girl, Ms. Stapleton retrieved her contact information from the system and made the report.
Employee’s Conduct Protected Under Conscientious Employee Protection Act
Ms. Stapleton filed a wrongful termination suit against her employer. Her New Jersey employment lawyer, Valerie Weisman of Sidney L. Gold and Associates, argued that she was acting in order to protect the child’s welfare. Her obligation to New Jersey state policy was greater than her obligation to DSW’s code of conduct, which is incompatible with these laws. By firing her for her attempts to comply with state child welfare policies, the company is in violation of New Jersey’s Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA), which protects whistleblowers from retaliation by their employers.
DSW filed a motion to dismiss the wrongful termination suit because Ms. Stapleton failed to notify the company that their policy violated New Jersey state law. The motion to dismiss was rejected, however, in an unprecedented opinion by the court. The court opined that Ms. Stapleton did not need to provide notice, but is protected under the CEPA because of her refusal to comply with a policy she deemed unlawful. In her wrongful termination claim, she does not have to prove that DSW’s confidentiality policy violated the law, but rather need only demonstrate a reasonable belief that the policy interfered with her legal obligation to protect the child’s welfare.
Furthermore, in refusing to dismiss her lawsuit, the court held that Ms. Stapleton does not have to disclose the potential violation to a public body in order to be protected by the CEPA. This is the first time a District Court in New Jersey denied a defendant’s motion for this reason, and it is setting a precedent for future whistleblower cases by doing so. Employees can seek protection under the CEPA simply by virtue of their refusal to act on a policy they believe is unlawful. Ms. Stapleton’s case is ongoing.
New Jersey Employment Attorneys at Sidney L. Gold & Associates Take On the Tough Wrongful Termination Cases
New Jersey’s CEPA is one of the most far-reaching whistleblower protection policies in the nation. Unfortunately, employees in all industries still face retaliation for refusing to comply with policies that are unlawful. If you have been wrongfully terminated or disciplinary action has been taken against you for refusing to act or voicing a reasonable complaint, an experienced employment law attorney can help protect your rights.
The Pennsylvania and New Jersey law firm of Sidney L. Gold & Associates focus exclusively on all areas of employment and labor law, including employment discrimination claims, whistleblower cases and wage & hour disputes. Our knowledgeable, experienced lawyers understand the complexities of employment law. We will take you through every step of the case and help you achieve the maximum recovery for the injustices you have experienced. With offices conveniently located in Center City Philadelphia, we represent clients throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Call us today at 215-569-1999 or contact us online to speak with a qualified employment attorney.