Under New Jersey employment law, specifically Section 6-14 of Title 18A of New Jersey Statutes, tenured teachers may be suspended on disciplinary charges with or without pay while their tenure charges are pending a determination. However, the statute provides that if an arbitrator has not issued a decision on the charges by the 120th day of the suspension, the board of education is required to pay the suspended teacher beginning on the 121st day until the arbitration decision is issued. If the charges are dismissed at any stage, the teacher will be reinstated with full pay for the entire period of her suspension. If the charges are dismissed and the board of education appeals, and it continues the suspension during the appeal, the teacher must receive full pay during the appeal. If the charges are not dismissed at the arbitration and the employee appeals, she is not entitled to pay while the appeal is pending, but if the appellate court orders her to be reinstated she will then be entitled to her lost pay for the entire suspension. (The board is required to deduct any salary the employee was paid while she was suspended from what the board is required to pay her.)
The Appellate Division of New Jersey’s Superior Court, New Jersey’s intermediate appeals court, recently faced a situation not expressly covered by the statute – a situation where a tenured employee is suspended, the arbitrator upholds the termination, the employee appeals, and the appeals court does not order that the employee be reinstated but instead remands the case for a new arbitration hearing. In that case, Pugliese v. State-Operated School District of the City of Newark, two tenured teachers were suspended without pay pending resolution of their disciplinary charges. They contested the charges, and an arbitrator holding a hearing under New Jersey’s TEACHNJ Act of 2012 upheld the charges and ordered the teachers dismissed. The teachers appealed. The Appellate Division reversed the arbitrators’ decisions. However, it did not order reinstatement, but rather remanded the cases for further proceedings. The appeal, filed by the teachers, stretched the suspension well past the 120 day mark. The teachers argued that they should be paid while the proceedings continued, but district refused because it was the employees who appealed and the charges were not dismissed. The Commissioner of Education agreed. The teachers appealed.
The Appellate Division held that even though it was the employees who appealed and the tenure charges were not dismissed, the district had to pay the teachers during their suspension.
The Appellate Division explained that “the obvious intent and purpose [of the New Jersey Legislature in enacting section 16-4] was to alleviate the financial plight of those affected by providing for the payment of their full salary … from the 121st day following the certification of charges until the determination thereof by the [arbitrator], or in the case of an appeal by a board from a decision adverse to it, until the determination of the appeal.” Applying that to the situation in front of it, which was not filed by the board and resulted in remand instead of dismissal, the Appellate Division reasoned that the remand was essentially the equivalent of a new trial, with the practical result that the prior arbitration award was not effective.
This decision gives effect to Title 18A’s requirement for back pay after the 120th day without an arbitration decision. A remand after an appeal can drag litigation out for years, an ironic result in an arbitration process which was supposed to speed up decisions on appeals. It effectuates the Legislature’s intent that tenured teachers not be forced into unpaid limbo while their appeals drag on. It is consistent with New Jersey’s strong protections for teachers and other public education employees.
Call us at (973) 890-0004 or email us to set up a consultation with one or our employment law attorneys. We can help.