Articles Tagged with New Jersey Employment Attorneys

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The law invests law enforcement officers with significant authority.  New Jersey employment law therefore imposes on them a high standard of conduct. stone-judge-778488-m-thumb-240x320-71245-thumb-220x293-71246-thumb-220x293-71247 And while progressive discipline governs the review of disciplinary infractions, particularly in the civil service context, serious offenses can result in termination even for a first offense.  Sometimes these cases are close calls; some are not.  A New Jersey appeals court recently examined these principles in the case of In the Matter of Ruiz, City of Perth Amboy, Department of Public Safety.  The case is a good examination of some of these legal principles, even though the court found that it wasn’t a close call.

Background

Benjamin Ruiz was police chief for Perth Amboy, New Jersey, a civil service jurisdiction.  After being charged in 2014, he was indicted on February 6, 2015 for official misconduct, theft of services and witness tampering.  He was suspended with pay and required to turn in his badge and gun.  He was acquitted by a jury of all charges on September 20, 2016.

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A recent New Jersey employment law decision by the Appellate Division of the State Superior Court in the case of Matter of Brian Clancy, illustrates the procedures – and some of the pitfalls – of appeals from the removal of candidates from civil service eligible lists.imagesCAWQ89PS

Background: Removal from the Eligible List

Clancy hoped to become a sheriff’s officer with the Bergen County Sheriff’s Officer, a civil service employer.  He took the civil service exam, passed, and was placed on the eligible list.  Thereafter, the Sheriff’s Office conducted a routine pre-employment background investigation, which is normal procedure after a candidate for a law enforcement officer position is placed on an eligible list for an agency.  Based on the results of the investigation, the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office removed Clancy’s name from the eligible list.

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In an important employment law decision, New Jersey’s Supreme Court once again considered the actions necessary to constitute illegal workplace harassment in the case of Rios v. Meda Pharmaceutical, Inc.  In this case the alleged harassment was based on an employee’s racecolumns-round-300x201 and ethnicity in violation of New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination.

Background

New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination prohibits workplace discrimination because an employee’s protected characteristic, including the employee’s:

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New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination prohibits employment discrimination, including age discrimination.  In interpreting this state law, New Jersey courts look to federal employment law, including the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, or the “ADEA,” passed by Congress in 1967.  A recent case by the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit addressed a typical issue in age discrimination cases.  Sincejudge-gavel-1461998219JBc-300x200 the Third Circuit hears federal appeals from the Federal District Courts in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and the United States Virgin Islands, the case, Martinez v. UPMC Susquehanna, is binding on New Jersey cases under the ADEA.  However, it is also influential on how New Jersey state courts will interpret the Law Against Discrimination.

Background

Zeferino Martinez, M.D., was a board certified orthopedic surgeon who had four decades of experience practicing medicine.  At the time of these events he was seventy years old.  A hospital hired Doctor Martinez in 2016 with a three year contract; he was the hospital’s only orthopedic surgeon.  In 2017, UPMC Susquehanna purchased the hospital and took over its management.  One month later UPMC’s chief operating officer and the executive director of UPMC’s musculoskeletal division fired Martinez.  They explained only that UPMC was “moving in a different direction and [Martinez’s] services were no longer needed,” and that his termination “had nothing to do with [his] performance.”

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A recent New Jersey employment law decision in the case of In the Matter of Wilfred Guzman,  Rockaway Township Police Department, examined what penalties are available against a Newpolice-hoboken-train-station Jersey civil service law enforcement officer.

Background

Wilfredo Guzman was a police officer with the Rockaway Township Police Department, a civil service jurisdiction.  Guzman was suspended without pay from April 24, 2017, when he was indicted, until June 19, 2019, when he was served with a Final Notice of Disciplinary Action which terminated him.  The termination was triggered by Officer Guzman’s guilty pleas to two counts of second degree official misconduct.  The Township also fined Officer Guzman the equivalent of 1040 hours worth of pay. Guzman appealed the fine to the New Jersey Office of Administrative Law (“NJOAL”) – New Jersey employment law allows civil service law enforcement officers to skip appeals to the New Jersey Civil Service Commission requesting that the appeal be considered a contested case, and instead file instead directly with the NJOAL.

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Attaining tenure is a milestone for public school employees.  Under New Jersey employment law, tenure carries legal protections against termination or discipline without just cause, and requires formal tenure charges and the right to challenge those charges through a hearing and appeal process.  Thesebully-3233568__340-300x272 protections are extremely valuable.

Much literature has been written about tenure requirements for teachers under New Jersey employment law.  However, New Jersey employment law also provides that other public school employees may obtain tenure protection as well.  The Appellate Division addressed the acquisition of tenure for school board secretaries and administrative assistants in the case of Saylor v. Board of Education of the Town of West New York.

Background

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Police officer discipline has significant ramifications under New Jersey employment law, whether the officer is in a civil service or non-civil service police department.  These extend beyond the ramifications of discipline for other public and private employees in New Jersey.  Thepolice-1714956__340-300x200 Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court recently examined some of these ramifications in its opinion in the case of Gilbert vs. Warren County Prosecutor.

Background

Jefferey C. Gilbert was a police officer with the Mansfield Township Police Department, a non-civil service jurisdiction.  He settled department disciplinary charges arising from alleged misconduct during a DUI investigation.  Gilbert accepted a six day suspension without pay to resolve all the disciplinary action against him, with the provision that the record of the discipline would remain in his personnel file and could be used as evidence if he received future disciplinary charges for the purposes of progressive discipline.

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The Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey examined the evidence necessary for claims of retaliation, discrimination and harassment under New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination and New Jersey’s whistleblower law, the Conscientious Employee Protection Act.  The unpublished opinion also examined what law an employee may bring suit under for whistleblower claims at the same time she is also bringing claims of discrimination and sexual harassment under New Jersey employment law.

Background

Nadine Heller is an associate professor at Middlesex County College (“MCC”).  She received tenure in that position and still holds it.  She also held the position of Chair of the Visual and Performing Media Arts Department.  As Chair she was part of the Department administration.

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The New Jersey Wage and Hour Law regulates minimum wage and overtime requirements.  It is New Jersey’s counterpart to the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act.  The Wage and Hour Law and Fair Labor Standards Act are bedrock elements of New Jersey employment law.  Under the Wage and Hour Law, New Jersey employers must pay overtime at a rate of one and half times an employee’s regular pay if she works more than forty hours a week.  However, if the employer is in imagesCAWQ89PSthe trucking industry, the employer is only legally required to pay overtime at the rate of one and half times minimum wage.  However, if the employer should have paid the higher rate but paid the lower rate, it can raise the defense that it did so in “good faith” reliance on government orders or regulations.

In the case of Branch v. Cream-O-Land Dairy, Elmer Branch filed a class action lawsuit in the New Jersey Superior Court against his employer, Cream-O-Land Dairy, on behalf of himself and similarly situated truck drivers employees, for non-payment of overtime in violation of the Wage and Hour Law.  Cream-O-Land argued that it was not required to pay the higher rate for two reasons.  First, it argued that it was a “trucking industry employer,” and that all the employees were paid at least the lower overtime rate.  Second, it argued that it met the “good faith” defense.  The trial agreed that Cream-O-Land satisfied the good faith defense and dismissed the case on that ground.  Branch appealed to the Appellate Division of the Superior Court which reversed, finding that the matters on which Cream-O-Land relied did not satisfy the statutory requirements of the Wage and Hour Law.

Cream-O-Land then appealed to the Supreme Court of New Jersey.  Because the trial judge did not address the exemption for trucking industry employers the Supreme Court, like the Appellate Division,  examined only whether Cream-O-Land satisfied the good faith defense.  It ruled that it did not.

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As we have explained here before, the New Jersey Civil Service appeal process gives civil service employees a meaningful avenue for appealing discipline imposed by their government employers.  However, a recent appellate opinion is a good reminder that this meaningful avenue for appeal is a two-way street.police-1714956__340-300x200

The New Jersey Civil Service Appeal Process

When a governmental employer wants to discipline employees with civil service protections, it must first give them a Preliminary Notice of Disciplinary Action (a “PNDA”) listing the charges and specifications against them.  Employee then have the right to elect to have a hearing, and whether they do nor not, when final discipline is imposed, the employer must then give the employee a Final Notice of Disciplinary Action (an “FNDA”).  For major discipline (a fine or suspension of more than five days, or termination), the employee has 20 days to file an appeal.

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