Both New Jersey’s tenure laws in Title 18A, which govern employees in New Jersey’s public schools, and the New Jersey Civil Service Act in Title 11A and Civil Service regulations are designed to ensure that government employment decisions, such as hiring, firing, promotion, etc., are made based on merit rather than nepotism, cronyism, racism, sexism, favoritism or politics. Of course, these factors still come into play, and employers seek ways around these laws. The New Jersey Supreme Court recently rejected such an attempt by the Newark School District to terminate a tenured secretary.
Brenda Miller was an employee of the Newark School District, which had been taken over and operated by the State of New Jersey. The District had adopted the Civil Service Act, Title 11A of New Jersey Statutes, to govern its employees. As public school employees, however, their employment was also governed by Title 18A, which governs New Jersey’s public grammar schools, middle schools, high schools and state colleges.
Brenda was hired in 1998 and held clerical and secretarial positions through 2012. By virtue of this service she had acquired tenure under Title 18A. These positions were also governed by the Civil Service System, and were considered “classified” titles. In 2012, however, the District reclassified Brenda’s current position to an “unclassified” confidential assistant, which as an unclassified title did not have the same civil service protections as classified positions – indeed, unclassified positions have little more protection than an employment at will job in the private sector. In 2014, citing the unclassified status of Brenda’s title, the District terminated her. It did not provide her with notice or a hearing.