Byrnes O’Hern & Heugle, LLC Senior Counsel Loryn Lawson represents Shanique Mercado, a former frontline caseworker in the NJ Division of Child Protection and Permanency. The case was recently featured on the online news site NJ.com. The entire article can be found here (requires paid subscription.) Highlights are below.
In 2017, Ms. Mercado wrote an anonymous letter to then Governor Christie and other top officials accusing several of her colleagues of a host of concerning conduct, including but not limited to, failing to see the children under their supervision, then falsifying reports saying the required visits had taken place.
“Under the scrutiny of a federal court monitor since 2003, New Jersey has spent billions of dollars and overhauled its child welfare system — once considered one of the worst in the nation — to prove it can do its job to protect abused and neglected children from further harm.
Throughout his eight-year-term, Gov. Chris Christie made clear he wanted to end the court oversight over the Division of Child Protection and Permanency on his watch. That didn’t happen and the oversight continues.”
Ms. Mercado has filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the state because she says, as per NJ.com:
“her identity was revealed and her claims were never investigated. She was soon forced out of a job she loved — and her home when she couldn’t find work. ‘My job was to protect the vulnerable,’ Mercado, 40, said in a telephone interview from her St. Petersburg, Florida home. ‘My job was not to be fearful of my agency.’
Mercado relocated to Florida with her two young children and works in a Head Start childcare program for $15 an hour — a fraction of the six-figure earnings as a caseworker and investigator in the Asbury Park office of the Division of Child Protection & Permanency for 12 years.”
Ms. Mercado says she had met or exceeded every goal of her job description. Her position is that she became a target for dismissal after she sent her whistleblower letter to senior child welfare officials, Governor Christie, the Dept. of Children and Families Commissioner at that time Allison Blake.
Ms. Lawson notes in her filing that the facts in the case make it “painfully clear” that Mercado was used “as an example as to what occurs when someone raises a good-faith, reasonable complaint that the agency was violating public policy and the law. Rather than adequately investigate the raised concerns, the Plaintiff was subjected to extreme, unlawful retaliation.”
A trial is scheduled for January in state Superior Court in Monmouth County. Ms. Lawson points out that of the nine mid-level and senior officials who worked to ensure Ms. Mercado’s dismissal, seven remain in their positions.