The journey for a whistleblower can be difficult at times, but if there is anything to be learned from the case of Johnson & Johnson whistleblower Joel Lippman, it’s that perseverance is key. Lippman, the former worldwide vice president of medical affairs for Johnson & Johnson’s Ethicon unit, filed a retaliation lawsuit against the company nearly six years ago. The lawsuit claims that Lippman was terminated for expressing concerns about the safety of several products, including a contraceptive patch and a surgical device. Court documents show that at one point, Lippman urged his superiors to issue a recall for one of the company’s medical devices that had the potential to fall apart during surgery. The recall was never issued, and Lippman was terminated for “inappropriate conduct” and mismanagement. He took Johnson & Johnson to court, but a New Jersey judge dismissed his case.
Lippman’s claim could have ended right then and there, but it didn’t. Instead, he continued to fight to get his day in court, and was rewarded for it. Earlier this month, a New Jersey Appeals Court panel agreed to let Lippman’s wrongful termination lawsuit against J&J proceed. In the appeal, Lippman argued that part of his job was to be something of an internal watchdog. He served on an internal review board that was supposed to make sure the company’s products were safe. In this position, it was Lippman’s duty to raise the very concerns he claimed he was fired for, and as such, should be protected under New Jersey’s Conscientious Employee Protection Act.
A three-judge panel sided with Lippman, saying that a jury could conceivably find that his termination was retaliatory. “Watchdog employees, like plaintiff, are the most vulnerable to retaliation because they are uniquely positioned to know where the problem areas are and to speak out when corporate profits are put ahead of customer safety,” the panel wrote in their decision. “We are satisfied that there is sufficient evidence in the record for a rational jury to find that plaintiff engaged in whistle-blowing when he objected to his employer’s tactic of delaying the recall of dangerous defective medical products and insisted that his employer take a patient-centered approach when deciding whether or not to recall a medical device.”
What can we learn from Lippman’s case? Never give up. Large corporations like Johnson & Johnson will do everything they can to deter you from filing a whistleblower claim against them, and unfortunately, this can include subtle (and not so subtle) ways of retaliating against you. One of the best ways of protecting yourself against retaliation from your employer is to seek counsel from an experienced whistleblower lawyer as soon as you possibly can. A whistleblower attorney will be able to advise you of the best possible course of action to take if your employer has treated you unfairly. Most importantly, your attorney will protect you from any further retaliation and challenge your employer’s illegal actions.