Articles Tagged with “New Jersey employment law.”

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The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination

New Jersey employment law has long been at the forefront of prohibiting discrimination.  Indeed, the Legislature adopted New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination in 1945, long before the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 first banned employment discrimination on the basis of race, and even before the President Harry Truman’s Executive Order desegregating the Armed Forces in 1948.  The Lawtenure-male-thumb-270x180-49202-thumb-200x133-49203 Against Discrimination has been amended many times since then to expand the protections against discrimination in employment, and decisions by New Jersey courts have interpreted the Law to provide much broader protections than those provided by similar Federal statutes such as the Federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (known as the “ADEA”).  However, the Law Against Discrimination is not without its flaws.  The New Jersey Legislature acted in 2021 to fix one of these flaws by strengthening the protections against age discrimination.

Prior Loopholes in Age Discrimination Protections

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New Jersey employment law provides many protections to employees.  One of the strongest of these is the tenure rights afforded to public school teachers.  Even with such strong protections, for many reasons employees sometimes decide to forgo these rights.  The Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey recently addressed a question about what notice is required when a full-time teacher voluntarily moves to a part-time position before she will be deemed to have waived her tenure rights to aback-to-school-1576791__340-300x200 full-time position in the case of Parsells v. Board of Education of the Borough of Somerville.

Background

Catherine Parsells was a tenured teacher with the Somerville, New Jersey, Board of Education.  She began working there in 2010.  In May 2016, a part-time teaching position with benefits became available.  She applied so that she could spend more time with her young son, and her application was approved.  Thereafter, Parsells went out on maternity leave on February 2, 2017.  She advised the superintendent that she intended to return to the part-time job the following year; he advised that she could, but the job would no longer have benefits, and that if she wanted befits she would have to work in a full-time position.  She continued part-time and later declined a new full-time position for family reasons.  She extended her maternity leave to include the entire 2017-2018 school year.

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In a recent New Jersey employment law decision, the Appellate Division of New Jersey’s Superior Court rejected a board of education’s argument that it had substantially complied with the requirements for giving notice to untenured employees whose employment contract was not going to be renewed for the following school year.

Background

In that case, Monika Vakulchik v. Board of Education of the Borough of Dunellen, Vakulchik, an untenured speech pathologist who worked for the Board since 2016,teacher-300x224 received an evaluation on May 1, 2020 with an average score of 3.33, which was in line with her scores over the previous years.  It was signed by her supervisor, the director of special services, and recommended her for non-renewal, despite leaving the section listing the areas in which she could improver her work blank.  She met with her supervisor and union representative, and then on May 3, 2020, emailed the superintendent requesting a statement of reasons for the non-renewal.  The Board voted on May 5, 2020 to accept the superintendent’s recommendations for renewal, which did not include Vakulchik.

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The Increase

New Jersey’s minimum wage rate is going up again.  The new minimum wage rate during this incremental increase is $13 per hour effective January 1, 2022.stock-photo-20612112-woman-leading-business-team

Background

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Government employees receive significant due process rights to challenge employer discipline which private sector employees and employees in non-civil service jurisdictions do not enjoy.  However, because New Jersey employment law recognizes the great responsibility placed onhttps://www.newjerseylawyersblog.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/195/2018/07/police-officer-sil.-300x254.png law enforcement officers, the Legislature has enacted robust procedures for police officers not covered by civil service to appeal discipline to the Superior Court.  Nonetheless, in the case of Miller vs. Borough of Berlin Police, the Appellate Division reminds us that the burden of proof remains on the officer and evidence is king.

Background

Jason Miller was a police officer with the Borough of Berlin Police Department, a non-civil service jurisdiction.  He was dispatched to a banquet hall because of a report of the theft of a purse.  Surveillance video showed an employee taking the purse, the manager gave Officer Miller the employee’s name and address, and Miller took a victim statement.  Miller told the victim that the employee was clearly identifiable and would be charged with a crime (as the victim told him she wished), and that the case was a “slam dunk.”  However, Miller did not follow up or press charges, and stated in the incident report that the victim did not wish to pursue criminal charges.  Several days later the victim called the Department to follow up.  Another officer took the call, and eventually other officers arrested the employee, who confessed.

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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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The recent trend has been for courts to find arbitration agreements enforceable under both Federal and New Jersey employment law.  However, prior to enforcing an arbitration agreement, courts must  find that there was actually agreement.  This simple concept was emphasized again by the Appellate Division of Contract-pen-thumb-300x225-80678-300x225the Superior Court of New Jersey in the case of Christina Imperato v. Medwell, LLC.

In that case, Christina Imperato was hired by Medwell, a chiropractic office.  She had a limited education and no prior medical or office experience.  When she was hired, Dr. Ali Mazandarani sat with her and had her sign some pre-employment forms.  They were not explained; Mazandarani sat with her, handed her the forms, and pointed to where she should sign.  She was not given the opportunity to read these or take them home.  The documents included a five page agreement which required that employment disputes be resolved by arbitration rather than court.

Imperato sued Medwell in the Superior Court of New Jersey for sexual harassment in violation of New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination.  Medwell’s attorneys filed a motion asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit and order the case to arbitration.  The trial judge allowed discovery, including depositions, on the limited question of whether Imperato signed the arbitration agreement, and if so whether she signed it voluntarily and knowingly.  The judge then held a hearing with live testimony on that single issue.

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Background

In the wake of the death of George Floyd, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal issued two directives amending New Jersey’s Internal Affairs Policy and Procedures (commonly referred to as the “Attorney General Guidelines” or the “IAPP”).  The thrust of these directives is to allow for the disclosure of New Jersey police-1714956__340-300x200law enforcement officer disciplinary records to promote transparency and confidence in police departments and internal affairs disciplinary procedures, as well as to broaden the discovery available to criminal defendants.  Those issues are worthy of a dissertation in themselves, but here I want to focus briefly on their effect in New Jersey employment litigation.

Problems Shielding Records in Employment Law Cases

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Federal versus State Courts for New Jersey Employment Law

Employees who sue their employers for violating New Jersey employment law most often choose to litigate in state court because New Jersey employment law and courts are viewed as more favorable to employees, while employers seek to litigate in Federal court, because federal courts and employment law are seen as courthouse-1223280__340-300x200more friendly to employers.  However, there are exceptions.  For instance, public employees sometimes have additional remedies under federal employment law, and employees can litigate their state and federal law claims together in federal court.  A good example of this can be seen in a decision in  Chesler vs. City of Jersey City by Judge Susan D. Wigenton of the United States District (New Jersey’s federal trial court).

The Chesler Case

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The New Jersey Supreme Court once again expanded  the enforceability of arbitration agreements under New Jersey employment law.  In its opinion in Skuse vs. Pfizer, Inc., the Court left in place the requirements necessary for agreements to arbitrate employee/employer disputes columns-round-300x201under New Jersey employment law, but in its application let the exceptions swallow the rule.

Pfizer’s Arbitration Agreement

Pfizer adopted an arbitration “agreement” – actually, more of a policy.  It was not a contract signed by an employee and Pfizer.  Rather, the employee was deemed to have agreed to arbitrate employment disputes if she continued working for Pfizer for sixty days after the policy’s effective date.  Employees were notified by email (to over 28,000 employees) about the policy and given a deadline to “acknowledge” having received it.  Whether the employees did or did not acknowledge receipt, they would be deemed to have “agreed” to the policy by their continued employment.  There was a training module with four slides which purported to explain the policy; one of the slides gave the employees the option to print a copy, but they were not given a copy by Pfizer; another thanked the employee for taking the training.  In the FAQ section of the training module employees were told that if they did not agree they would be fired.

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