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Articles Tagged with “New Jersey Employment Lawyers”

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How a New Jersey public employment position is classified can have enormous effects on an employee’s rights.  This blog describes some of the details about how the New Jersey Civil Service Commission classifies New Jersey Civil Service jobs, and what the consequences of thoseNJ_State_House-300x200 classifications are.

 
Some terms

Under New Jersey Civil Service Law, jobs are classified by “titles.”  Titles are based on duties, responsibilities, and qualifications.  “Career service” employees serve in “classified” titles, “unclassified employees” serve in “unclassified” titles.

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In an important decision interpreting New Jersey employment law, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Melnyk versus the Delsea Regional High School District that analyzing whether a position is eligible for tenure protection depends on the statutory requirements, not teacher-300x200on how the employer chooses to label it.

Paula Melnyk was a long-time, tenured, full-time, certified, special education and English teacher during the day for the Board of Education of the Delsea Regional High School District, since 1991.  From 2002 through 2015, except for a break in the 2009-2010 school year, she also taught at in the Board’s BookBinders Program.  This was an evening program for students who had been removed from the traditional daytime classroom for behavioral issues, or who otherwise could not participate in the regular school program.  State law required the Board of Education to provide this service, whether through its own staff and facilities, or by agreement through another district.  The Board chose to provide the services itself.

The Board characterized Melnyk’s work in this program as “extra-curricular,” and therefore not eligible for tenure.  Had it been a position eligible for tenure, Melnyk would have earned it, since even with the break in 2009-2010, she had more than the three years and a day then required to earn tenure (that time frame was increased in 2012 by the TEACHNJ Act, but it was not applicable when Melnyk would have earned tenure).

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Discipline is a major component of New Jersey’s Civil Service system.  Discipline under New Jersey Civil Service law is either “major” or “minor.”

Major Discipline

The main procedural consequence of the difference major discipline and minor discipline is that major discipline can be appealed to the New Jersey Civil Service Commission, while minor discipline can only be challenged in the Superior Court of New Jersey.  Major discipline is civil-servcie-1800s-300x165defined as a suspension or fine of more than five days.  Major discipline includes removal, disciplinary demotion, and suspension or fine for more than five working days.  The touchstone for all civil service disciplinary procedures, however, is that “The theme of fairness threads its way through the notice, hearing, and right of appeal provisions of our Civil Service Act, and finds particular pertinence in those sections requiring that the causes for [discipline, including] removal constituting ‘just cause’ be enumerated with specificity.”

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No discussion of New Jersey employment law would be complete without New Jersey’s Civil Service System, which governs all state government employees, and employees of twenty of New Jersey’s twenty-one counties, and the majority of its municipalities.

As far back as 1961, the Appellate Dnew-york-county-courthouse-1540991328RMS-300x200ivision gave a cogent summary of the disciplinary procedures in New Jersey’s Civil Service Act, which is worth quoting ver batim.

Disciplinary proceedings against a civil servant are not only an attempt to determine the status of a particular individual; they are a statutorily authorized action to redress a wrong committed against the people of the State by one in whom the public trust has been officially reposed. The proceedings are therefore penal, or at least Quasi-penal, in nature, and deeply embedded constructional principles, supported by fundamental notions of fairness, dictate that in such an action the statute or regulation defining the alleged violation be construed to comport with the fair meaning of the language used. The theme of fairness threads its way through the notice, hearing, and right of appeal provisions of our Civil Service Act, and finds particular pertinence in those sections requiring that the causes for removal constituting ‘just cause’ be enumerated with specificity. The governing consideration, that one be fairly and completely advised of the nature of the charges against him, loses all effectiveness if it is not reinforced by a requirement that the proscribed activities and contingencies warranting disciplinary proceedings be set forth with reasonable particularity and construed accordingly.

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Employee Choices for Challenging Discipline

In a recent unpublished decision, the Appellate Division of the Superior Court addressed the employment law issue of jurisdiction for appealing discipline of tenured school employees.

When a New Jersey government employee faces discipline, there are several avenues for relief depending on the nature of the alleged wrong by the employer and the relief sought.  If the alleged violation is one of constitutional rights, discrimination, or whistleblowing retaliation, the employee can sue in New Jersey state or federal court, or appeal in an administrative forum.  Tschool-bus-1-300x200he choice will depend on the relief sought.  If the employee does not want to continue working for the employer or does not care about correcting the discipline, but rather only cares about collecting money damages, then she would sue in court (New Jersey state courts and New Jersey law provide greater procedural and substantive advantages for employees, so they usually file in the Superior Court rather than federal court).  If the employee is more concerned about getting her job back or correcting the discipline, often the administrative route (which can also provide back pay) is the best choice.  When there are no issues of constitutional rights, or discrimination or retaliation, then the administrative route is the only option.

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Police Car, White Male, 3D Model
On December 6, 2019, the New Jersey Civil Service Commission recently reviewed and rescinded its September 5, 2018 decision which removed an applicant’s name from an eligible list for Jersey City police officer. The case was argued by Maurice W. McLaughlin, Esq., and Robert K. Chewning, Esq.

After the Civil Service Commission made its September 5, 2018 decision, the applicant was required to file an appeal in the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey. On appeal, the applicant argued that the Civil Service Commission’s decision was arbitrary, capricious, and constituted an abuse of discretion based on the evidence which established the applicant’s Jersey City residence prior to the August 31, 2016 announced closing date through the date until the present.

The Appellate Division remanded the case to the Civil Service Commission to review the factual record and reconsider its prior decision. On remand, the Civil Service Commission found: (1) that appellant had established by a preponderance of the evidence that he had lived in Jersey City as of the August 31, 2016 closing date; and (2) that the Civil Service Commission had previously erred in reviewing relevant documents including applicant’s motor vehicle address change form, driver’s license, and lease agreement. A copy of the New Jersey Civil Service Commission’s decision can be found here.

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American, Bills, Business, Cheque
In the case of Secretary of United States Department of Labor vs. Bristol Excavating, Inc., the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, recently issued an important, precedential opinion on when payments by third-parties need to be included by employers in the calculation of their employees’ overtime pay rates.

Bristol Excavating, Inc. (Bristol) is a small excavation contractor.  Bristol was a subcontract for Talisman Energy, Inc., a large producer of natural gas.  Bristol provided Talisman with equipment, labor and services at Talisman’s drilling sites.  Bristol’s employees often worked more than 40 hours per week, and Bristol paid them “overtime,” or one and a half times the regular hourly rate which Bristol normally paid them (“time and a half”) for all the hours they worked over 40 hours in one week.

Talisman offered workers at its sites – not just its own employees – separate bonuses rewarding them for safety, efficiency and productively measured by completion of work.  Bristol’s employees asked Bristol if they could participate.  Bristol agreed, and also agreed to do the administrative work.  This administrative work included paying the bonuses through Bristol’s payroll, and taking out all applicable tax withholdings.  Bristol did not include these bonuses in its calculation for overtime pay for its employees because it was not Bristol’s money with which the employees were being paid.

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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.

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Refugees, Economic Migrants

Governor Murphy signed New Jersey’s Equal Pay Act into law in 2018.  The NJEPA  takes a necessary step in making pay discrepancies in the workplace more transparent with the hopes that this will address the pay differential between white men minorities, and women.  Essentially, it bars any penalty to any employee for requesting or disclosing information regarding any employee’s job title, rate of compensation, benefits, race, gender, ethnicity, or other protected characteristic when the purpose of the inquiry or disclosure to investigate the possibility of discriminatory treatment.  (While the NJEPA was originally intended to address inequitable pay for women, it was expanded to cover all protected classes of people.)

This allows for employees to obtain information which previously (and even now) is largely safeguarded by employers as “private” in order to determine whether they are being discriminated against based upon a protected classification.   Any employer “policy” which forbids discussing compensation in the workplace could be considered void by the law.

The NJEPA amended New Jersey’s Laws Against Discrimination to enable the use of the protections of that statute. The NJEPA also specifically makes it unlawful to pay employees in protected classes a different rate of compensation when performing substantially similar work considering skill, effort, and responsibilities. Differentials may still exist when based on seniority, merit, education, productivity, experience, and other legitimate business reasons. The Act also allows expands upon the LAD’s typical 2-year statute of limitations by setting forth that limitation period restarts each time the employee receives unequal compensation resulting from a discriminatory decision or practice.  The employee may also recover up to 6 years of back pay as a result of a violation by the employer.  Additionally, the employee may receive treble damages – meaning that they may recover three times the monetary damages awarded as a result of the pay discrepancy.

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The Federal Fair Labor Standards Act requires that employers, including New Jersey employers, pay their non-exempt employees minimum wage and overtime (the vast majority of employees are not subject to an exemptions; the major exemptions are for executive, administrative and professional employees, and outside sales).  Independent contractors, however, are not protected by the Fair Labor Standards Act.  Claims of misclassification of employees have recently led to significant amounts of litigation.

The United States Third Circuit Court of Appeals recently issued an opinion on misclassification of workers in the case of Priya Verma v. 3001 Castor, Inc., which found that adult dancers were employees entitled to the protection of the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act.  While the case arose in Pennsylvania Federal Court, the Third Circuit rules on appeals from federal courts in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and the United States Virgin Islands, so it’s decisions determine how federal law, including the Fair Labor Standards Act, will be applied are binding in New Jersey.

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