New Jersey employment law in the public sector incorporates the doctrine of collateral estoppel, which in some cases bars relitigating issues already decided in another forum. This applies to administrative appeals of employment action. A New Jersey appellate court recently examined this doctrine in the context of the revocation of a teacher’s teaching certificate after an arbitration on tenure charges in the case of In the Matter of the Revocation of the Certificates of Lesley Etheridege by the State Board of Examiners. The court extended the reach of the New Jersey Supreme Court’s Winters case.
Lesley Etheridege was employed as a teacher by the Passaic County Vocational School District. She held a New Jersey Department of Education “Teacher of Electronic Technology Certificate of Eligibility” and a “Teacher of Electronic Technology Standard Certificate.” In 2015, the District filed 23 tenure charges against her with the New Jersey Commissioner of Education, one for inefficiency under the TEACHNJ Act, and 22 for various instances constituting conduct unbecoming a teacher (one of which the District later dismissed). The Commissioner found that, if true, the allegations would be grounds for termination or reduction in salary and therefore transferred the charges to an arbitrator in accordance with the TEACHNJ Act. The arbitrator held three days of hearings and sustained the charges, finding that Etheridge had committed conduct unbecoming by “falsifying grades and engaging in inappropriate grading practices; failing to report to teaching assignments; leaving students unattended; leaving the school campus without permission or notification; failing to complete lesson plans; and insubordination by failing to provide lesson plans as directed by her supervisor.” The arbitrator rejecter Etheridge’s argument that the charges were brought because of political affiliation, nepotism, union activity and discrimination. The arbitrator found that termination was the appropriate remedy for her continued pattern of inappropriate behavior.