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Tenure Law Violations

The purpose behind the New Jersey Tenure Employee Hearing Laws (TEHL), N.J.S.A. 18A:17-2 et. seq. is to secure efficient public service by protecting public employment, therefore, the widest range should be given to the applicability of the law. Miller v. State-Operated Sch. Dist. of Newark, 461 N.J. Super. 215, 218 (App. Div. 2018), affirmed 240 N.J. 118 (2019). The TEHL is not limited to teachers. In fact under N.J.S.A. 18A:17-2(b) tenure apply to “any person holding any secretarial or clerical position or employment under a board of education of any school district or under any officer thereof, after: (1) The expiration of a period of employment of three consecutive calendar years in the district or such shorter period as may be fixed by the board or officer employing him, or (2) Employment for three consecutive academic years, together with employment at the beginning of the next succeeding academic year. Relatedly, in Miller, the New Jersey Appellate Division held, and the Supreme Court affirmed, that the plaintiff satisfied the tenure requirements of N.J.S.A. 18A:17-2 because the time spent working in secretarial or clerical positions qualifying under the Civil Service Act also counted toward her achievement of tenure. Miller v. State-Operated Sch. Dist. of Newark, 461 N.J. Super. 215, 218 (App. Div. 2018), affirmed 240 N.J. 118 (2019).

Employees’ tenure rights are statutory and not contractual. DiNapoli v. Board of Educ. Of Tp. of Verona, 434 N.J. Super. 233, 237 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 2014) (relying on Zimmerman v. Newark Bd. of Educ., 183 A.2d 25 (N.J. 1962)); N.J.S.A. 18A:17-2. Therefore, an employee’s right to tenure accrues based on compliance with the relevant statutory requirements. Still v. State Operated Sch. Dist. of Camden, N.J. Super Unpub LEXIS 1580 (2018), citing Platia v. Bd. of Educ., 434 N.J. Super. 382, 388 (App. Div. 2014). Although an employee must clearly prove the right to tenure, Canfield v. Bd. of Educ., 51 N.J. 400 (1968), tenure laws are to be liberally construed in light of their remedial purpose. Spiewak v. Bd. of Educ., 90 N.J. 63, 74 (1982).

A significant benefit to employees eligible for protection under the tenure laws is that a tenured employee shall not be dismissed or reduced in compensation, “except for inefficiency, incapacity, unbecoming conduct, or other just cause, and then only after a hearing held pursuant to this subarticle, by the commissioner, or person appointed by him [or her] to act in his [or her] behalf.” N.J.S.A. 18A:6-10. “Just cause” for dismissal of a public employee can be found where there had been chronic misconduct. In re Stallworth, 208 N.J. 182 (2011). The United States District Court of New Jersey in Maietta v. United Parcel Serv., 749 F. Supp. 1344 (D. N.J. 1990) defined “just cause” as follows:

“A discharge for 'just cause' is one based on facts that (1) are supported by substantial evidence and (2) are reasonably believed by the employer to be true and also (3) is not for any arbitrary, capricious, or illegal reason."); Kestenbaum v. Pennzoil Co., 108 N.M. 20, 766 P.2d 280, 287 (1988) (employer must have "reasonable grounds to believe that sufficient cause existed" to discharge the employee), cert. denied, 490 U.S. 1109, 109 S. Ct. 3163, 104 L. Ed. 2d 1026 (1989).”

To file a tenure appeal of a dismissal or other adverse employment action to the New Jersey Commissioner of Education a party must file a dispute with the Commissioner no later than 90 days of receipt of notice of final action from a Board of Education, by filing a Petition of Appeal with the Office of Controversies and Disputes following the procedures outlined in N.J.A.C. 6A:3-1.1. et seq.

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