A problem our employment attorneys frequently encounter is complaints of nepotism in the hiring and promotion of public school teachers. While the hiring of relatives is not per se illegal in New Jersey public schools, there are significant restrictions on it.
The New Jersey Legislature and the New Jersey Department of Education have passed restrictions limiting nepotism based on the Legislature’s spending power. At the local level, restrictions on nepotism are a requirement for the receipt of state aid. Thus, while nepotism is not “illegal,” anti-nepotism policies are required for the receipt of state aid. Since almost all New Jersey local public schools receive state aid, the restrictions on nepotism are virtually universal. The New Jersey Department of Education’s regulations apply to school districts, charter schools and county vocational school districts. These board of education (or trustees for charter schools) must adopt anti-nepotism policies as a condition for receiving state aid.
The policies adopted under these rules restrict employment practices concerning “relatives” and “immediate family members” of board members and chief administrators. In general, their relatives cannot be employed by the same school district or charter school. Likewise, a chief school administrator may not recommend her own relatives or those of a member of the board of education.
Relatives employed when these regulations were adopted be “grandfathered” in. Likewise, relatives who would otherwise be barred from employment in school districts or vocational schools under these regulations may be hired if a “thorough search” fails to locate any qualified alternative candidates; in this case, however, the Executive County Superintendent of Schools must first approve a waiver for their employment, which hopefully should serve as a check on any improper motive. When one of these exceptions allows the employment of an otherwise barred relative, the chief administrator must be barred from directly or indirectly supervising the relative under the anti-nepotism policy if feasible; if that is not feasible, then appropriate procedures must be put in place.
Board members and chief school administrators may not negotiate, vote on, or even discuss union contracts when their relative is a member of the bargaining unit the district is negotiating the contract with. The administrator may not even be present during discussions of the agreement; the administrator may, however, provide technical information to the bargaining team. The regulations take this a step further prohibiting administrators with “immediate family members” in the same statewide union as the local bargaining unit from involvement in the negotiations process (for example, the chief school administrator for Paterson Board of Education may not be involved in negotiations with the Paterson Education Association if she also has an “immediate family member” who is employed by the New Jersey Education Association). However, once a tentative agreement including salary terms has been reached, the administrator may fully engage in the negotiation process; before that, she may only provide technical information not available elsewhere.
In a 2009 case, the Appellate Division of New Jersey’s Superior Court upheld these regulations.
The regulations and related statutes define a “relative” as the administrator’s or board member’s spouse, civil union partner, domestic partner, parent, child, sibling, aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, grandparent, grandchild, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, stepparent, stepchild, stepbrother, stepsister, half-brother or half-sister, or those of the person’s spouse, civil union partner or domestic partner. This classification applies whether the “relative” is related to the administrator or board member or their spouse, civil union partner or domestic partner, and whether by blood, marriage or adoption. The regulations define “immediate family member” as the administrator’s or board member’s spouse, civil union partner, domestic partner, or child or sibling residing in the same household.
There are also laws restricting nepotism at the state level, including in the Department education. You can see them here.
If you believe that you have been wrongfully terminated, passed over for a promotion, harassed, discriminated against, or retaliated against for “blowing the whistle,” call our New Jersey employment attorneys at (973) 890-0004, or e-mail us at the space provided on this page. We are here to help you with your employment problems.