A former assistant attorney with New Jersey’s Orange Township has emerged victorious in a protracted whistleblower retaliation case in which he alleged he was fired after he stood up to a superior who ordered him to carry out illegal actions.
Orange Assistant Attorney John McGovern sued the city five years ago claiming he was wrongfully fired in violation of the state’s whistleblower protections, but his complaint has been bogged down in appeals and uncooperative city officials who flaunted court orders.
According to NJ.com, Mr. McGovern had worked for the city for five years in the legal department, mostly dealing with workers compensation claims, until he was fired in 2013. Mr. McGovern claimed then-assistant Business Administrator Willis Edwards told him to forgive a $100,000 lien against a city clerk who had been injured on the job as part of a settlement the city obtained from the person at fault in the accident.
Mr. McGovern disputed the order, holding it was illegal to waive the lien without the approval of the city council and mayor. He was fired the next day.
Mr. McGovern filed his lawsuit in 2014, naming the city, Mayor Dwayne Warren, and Mr. Edwards as defendants. He accused them of wrongful termination, breach of contract, and violation of New Jersey’s whistleblower protections law prohibiting employers from retaliating against employees who call out wrongdoing in the workplace.
The city argued that Mr. McGovern was an at-will employee, meaning that the law did not require it to provide a reason for terminating him.
“For about two years, McGovern’s attorney requested discovery and various other materials from the city, which several times went unfilled, appellate judges wrote in their decision. Even court orders to turn over the information were ignored, the decision reads,” according to NJ.com.
Court documents in the whistleblower case state that “the judge found that defendants had engaged in a pattern of discovery violations (including) failure to comply with the court’s orders. The judge states that defendants’ attorney ‘has shown a complete lack of respect for the court’s orders and discovery rules.’”
Appellate court judges upheld an earlier ruling against the city in July, ordering the city to pay Mr. McGovern $350,000 including back pay, $50,000 in compensatory damages for the “embarrassment and anxiety” city’s officials caused him, attorney fees, and contributions to his pension. Additionally, the judges ordered the city to reinstate Mr. McGovern to his former position within the city.