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Former officer awarded millions in wrongful termination lawsuit

A New Jersey jury has handed down a $1.4 million award to a police officer whose moral code put him at odds with his superiors. The officer suffered both mental and physical abuse from his superior officers and others after he complained about illegal activity in the department.

New Jersey law specifically protects employees from the kind of mistreatment the officer suffered under the Conscientious Employee Protection Act, which is also known as the "Whistleblower Act." The act provides protection not just to those who actively report illegal activity but also to those who simply refuse to join in.

While the officer technically resigned his post, he maintained that he was harassed into quitting by others in the department after his Sergeant ordered him to essentially tear up the parking ticket he'd issued to another officer's wife.

After refusing to illegally dismiss the ticket, the officer was subjected to a variety of vicious forms of abuse. He was slapped on the head, forced to clean the station bathrooms and assigned 12-hour graveyard shifts for months in a row. The officer also somehow became the focus of criminal investigations within the department -- at the instigation of the Sergeant he defied -- that focused around his employment application and the application for his pistol permit.

When the officer finally resigned in frustration, his superiors claimed he did so to escape prosecution for the faults in both his employment application and pistol permit.

The jury disagreed.

They found that there was a clear connection between his objection to the illegal activity and the retaliation he was dealt. They also found a clear connection between his refusal to participate in an illegal act at his superior officer's order and his eventual resignation from the force.

When deciding the amount of damages to award the former officer, the jury divided the actual damages between lost wages and emotional distress. However, they also included what amounts to a whopping $800,000 fine in the form of punitive damages. Punitive damages exist solely to punish the defendant in these kinds of cases and to warn others about copying the behavior.

If you've been fired or forced to resign your position because you refused to go along with an illegal activity, talk to an attorney today. You may have a valid claim for wrongful termination under New Jersey's laws.

Source: www.njherald.com, "Jury awards Hamburg ex-cop $1.4 million in lawsuit," Lori Comstock, July 06, 2017

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