The New Jersey Supreme Court heard arguments on Tuesday in a case where whistleblower Joyce Quinlan is asking for reinstatement of her $10 million jury verdict. An appellate court had vacated the verdict finding that Curtiss-Wright was justified in firing Quinlan for taking company documents for use in her litigation. The New Jersey Law Journal reports that the questions during oral argument suggest the state supreme court is likely to agree that whistleblowers cannot use company documents without the company's permission, even if those documents show that the company engaged in illegal discrimination. I hope the court's decision will make clear that:
- If the company permitted you to see the documents during work, then copying the documents is not theft if you leave the originals for the company.
- If the documents show the company engaged in illegal conduct, then it is against the public interest for the company to require employees to keep the documents secret.
- If a whistleblower sees documents while performing normal work duties and copies them for use in official government investigations or judicial proceedings, then making and using the copies is protected activity.
- If a company has a duty to provide documents in discovery and fails to do so, then the company should be punished and not the employee who caught them breaking the law.
If the New Jersey Supreme Court decides instead that company policies of confidentiality are more important than eliminating discrimination, then it will point to the need for a federal private sector whistleblower law that makes the scope of protected activity clear. The case is Quinlan v. Curtiss-Wright Corp., A-51-09 (64,728). The question presented is, "Was plaintiff’s removal of confidential documents from her employer for use in advancing plaintiff’s gender-discrimination lawsuit against the employer protected activity under the Conscientious Employee Protection Act?"