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Attorney gains right to pursue retaliation case

A patent attorney who worked for one of the most well-known cosmetic companies in the world has won the right to continue his retaliation lawsuit after an appeal.

The attorney, who worked in the New Jersey-based regional patent office for the company, was once responsible for overseeing the way that new products were patented.

However, he ran into a quandary in 2014 when the company issued a set of rules that conflicted with the mandatory goals it set for the patent team. It wanted the patent team to push through 40 patents a year — which is no little task, given the extensive amount of research that has to be done on any potential patent and the fierce competition in the cosmetics industry.

Meanwhile, the company began an initiative designed to refine the applications it presented for patents — which meant fewer new ideas were being handed to the legal team for research.

This left the legal team with a difficult choice: Push through products that weren’t carefully vetted or fail to meet their quota.

When the attorney let his bosses know that it would be an ethical violation for an attorney to push a product through to the U.S. Patent Office unless the attorney believed it actually met all the requirements, he was suddenly presented with a choice: severance package A or severance package B.

It seems the company had issues with his ethical qualms and decided to deal with the problem by removing him from his position — perhaps hoping that the next person to take his place wouldn’t feel so morally constrained.

When the attorney declined both offers, he was summarily fired. Officially, the company said that his job was simply eliminated.

It’s against New Jersey’s anti-discrimination laws to fire someone for declining to engage in an act that he or she believes violates either the law or the ethical standards to which his or her profession is held. While a lower court felt that the attorney hadn’t made his case, the higher court disagreed — so the case will now move forward.

Cases like this illustrate how companies will sometimes try to skirt the law — particularly by claiming to eliminate a position rather conveniently following a complaint. If you’ve been the victim of a similar retaliatory discharge, talk to an attorney today.

Source: Business Insurance, “Retaliation lawsuit reinstated against L’Oreal,” Judy Greenwald, July 26, 2017

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