Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law

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The Washington Township Education Association was the major union representative for employees of the Robbinsville Township Board of Education. Relevant to the events in this matter, the Board and the Association were bound by a collective negotiation agreement during the period of July 1, 2008 through June 30, 2011. According to Article 5.3 of the Agreement, the teachers salaries were based on the number of school-year work days, which contract negotiations established to be 188 days for new teachers and 185 days for all other teachers. On March 17, 2010, during a time of declared fiscal emergency, the State notified the Board that State education funding to the district would be reduced by fifty-eight percent for the upcoming 2010-2011 school year. Reeling from that significant funding reduction, the Board took action: it revised its budget for the next school year by cutting educational programs, freezing salaries, and laying off approximately thirteen teaching and staff positions. Because those attempts were insufficient to balance the school district's budget, on March 19, 2010, the Board asked the Association to re-open contract negotiations for the 2010-2011 school year. The Association, citing its members best interests, declined to re-open discussions mid-contract. The Association also did not respond to the Board s subsequent request on April 13 to reconsider re-opening negotiations. The Board announced a decision to impose involuntary furlough days on teachers, knowing that the furloughed days would impact the affected employees' wages. An unfair labor charge was filed with the Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC). The Appellate Division granted summary judgment in favor of the Board. But the Supreme Court reversed, finding that the Appellate Division's decision was based on an overly broad and mistaken reading of the controlling case-law for this matter. View "In the Matter of Robbinsville Twp. Bd. of Education v. Washington Township Education Assn." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Ramon and Jeffrey Cuevas were brothers who were employees of defendant Wentworth Property Management Corporation (Wentworth). In May 2005, Michael Mendillo, president and chief executive officer of Wentworth, hired Ramon to serve as a regional vice president; months later, Wentworth hired Jeffrey as a portfolio manager. Jeffrey was promoted to executive director in July 2007. In the new position, Jeffrey reported directly to defendant Arthur Bartikofsky, Wentworth's executive vice president of operations. Ramon also reported to Bartikofsky. Plaintiffs claimed that they encountered racial discrimination and a hostile work environment while under Bartikofsky's supervision. Many of the degrading remarks directed at Ramon occurred at senior executive meetings, where Mendillo, Bartikofsky, Alan Trachtenberg (in-house counsel), other executives, and regional vice presidents were present. Jeffrey corroborated most of his brother's account. When Jeffrey complained to Trachtenberg, he replied that Jeffrey should calm down and that the remarks should not be taken so seriously. Within the next month, both Ramon and Jeffrey were terminated. Plaintiffs filed an action under New Jersey s Law Against Discrimination (LAD) claiming that they were victims of race-based discrimination, a hostile work environment, and retaliatory firings. Ramon also claimed that Wentworth failed to promote him based on his race. In its defense, Wentworth contended that plaintiffs were terminated for poor work performance. The case was tried before a jury, which returned a verdict against defendants on all claims other than Ramon's failure-to-promote claim. The jury awarded overall damages in the amount of $2.5 million to the two brothers, including $800,000 in emotional-distress damages to Ramon and $600,000 in emotional-distress damages to Jeffrey. The trial court rejected defendants post-trial motions to vacate the jury's verdict and the damages award. In particular, the court denied defendants motion for a remittitur of the emotional-distress damages. In doing so, the court distinguished the comparable cases and verdicts selected by defendants. In the court's view, the award fell far short of one that would be shocking to the conscience. The trial judge also stated that she would refrain from applying her own feel for the case under "He v. Miller," (207 N.J.230 (2011)). The Appellate Division affirmed the trial court's judgment. Finding no error, the Supreme Court affirmed too. View "Cuevas v. Wentworth Group" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Tonique Griffin, Virginia Best and Rosalyn Walker, employees of the City of East Orange, alleged that they were sexually harassed by a supervisor. In the wake of plaintiffs' internal reports of the alleged harassment, the City retained an attorney to conduct an investigation of their claims. Corletta Hicks an aide to the City's then-Mayor, Robert Bowser, and a close friend of Griffin, made statements to the investigator that undermined Griffin's allegations and supported the credibility of the alleged harasser. The investigator relied in part on Hicks's statements in rejecting plaintiffs' contention that, by virtue of the supervisor's harassment, they were subjected to a hostile work environment. Plaintiffs filed complaints under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD), alleging hostile work environment sexual harassment, quid pro quo sexual harassment, and retaliation, and seeking compensatory and punitive damages. During discovery, Hicks testified at her deposition that Mayor Bowser spoke with her before she was interviewed by the investigator, directing her to make negative comments about Griffin and to praise the supervisor accused of harassment, and that pursuant to his instructions, she provided the investigator with misleading information. The trial court barred Hicks from testifying at trial on the ground that her proposed testimony was irrelevant to plaintiffs' claims. The court granted a directed verdict dismissing some of plaintiffs' claims, and the jury rejected the remaining claims. An Appellate Division panel affirmed the trial court's judgment. After its review, the Supreme Court held that the trial court erred when it barred plaintiffs from presenting Hicks' testimony to the jury. Mayor Bowser's alleged instructions to Hicks were directly pertinent to plaintiffs' claims for compensatory and punitive damages arising from hostile work environment sexual harassment, and therefore met the relevancy standard of N.J.R.E. 401. The hearsay statements attributed to Mayor Bowser constituted statements by a party's agent or servant offered against the party, and were thus within the exception to the hearsay rule prescribed by N.J.R.E. 803(b)(4). The Court therefore reversed the Appellate Division's judgment affirming the dismissal of plaintiffs' claims for hostile work environment sexual harassment, and remanded the matter to the trial court for a new trial on those claims. We affirm the Appellate Division's judgment with respect to plaintiffs remaining claims. View "Griffin v. City of East Orange" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Robert Smith was a certified emergency medical technician and paramedic associated with defendant Millville Rescue Squad (MRS), which provided medical transportation and rescue services. Plaintiff started off as a volunteer, but assumed a paid position in January 1996. At the time of his termination in February 2006, plaintiff served as Director of Operations until June 1998. Plaintiff s direct supervisor was co-defendant John Redden, MRS's Chief Executive Officer. Plaintiff's wife at the time, Mary, was also employed by MRS, as were her mother and two sisters. In early 2005, plaintiff commenced an extramarital affair with an MRS volunteer, who was supervised directly by plaintiff. In June 2005, Mary learned of plaintiff's affair and reported it to Redden. Shortly thereafter, plaintiff informed Redden of the affair. The MRS volunteer left MRS in 2005, but the affair continued, leading to irreconcilable discord between plaintiff and Mary. On January 1, 2006, plaintiff moved out of the marital home. On January 2, 2006, plaintiff informed Redden that his marriage to Mary had collapsed. According to plaintiff's testimony, Redden thanked plaintiff for keeping him informed and asked to be notified of any developments regarding his marital status. When informed that plaintiff would divorce, he was terminated. The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court's review addressed the scope of the marital status protection afforded to employees by the Law Against Discrimination (LAD). After review, the Court held that the LAD protected all employees who have declared that they will marry, have separated from a spouse, have initiated divorce proceedings, or have obtained a divorce from discrimination in the workplace. Plaintiff presented sufficient evidence from which a reasonable jury could find that the employer harbored discriminatory animus against divorcing employees and that this animus bore directly on the decision to terminate plaintiff s employment. The trial court therefore erred when it dismissed the complaint at the close of plaintiff's case. View "Smith v. Millville Rescue Squad" on Justia Law

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The issue before the New Jersey Supreme Court in this case was whether the 2011 suspension of State pension cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) contravened a term of the contract right granted under the earlier enacted non-forfeitable right statute, L.1997, c.113 (codified as N.J.S.A.43:3C-9.5). Qualifying members of the State's public pension systems or funds were granted a non-forfeitable right to receive benefits as provided under the laws governing the retirement system or fund. By codifying that non-forfeitable right to receive benefits, the Legislature provided that the benefits program, for any employee for whom the right has attached, could not be reduced. Whether COLAs were part of the benefits program protected by N.J.S.A. 43:3C-9.5 depended on whether the Legislature, in enacting N.J.S.A. 43:3C-9.5(a) and (b), intended to create a contractual right to COLAs. The Supreme Court found in this instance, proof of unequivocal intent to create a non-forfeitable right to yet-unreceived COLAs was lacking. Although both plaintiff retirees and the State advanced plausible arguments on that question, "the lack of such unmistakable legislative intent dooms plaintiffs' position." The Court concluded that the Legislature retained its inherent sovereign right to act in its best judgment of the public interest and to pass legislation suspending further COLAs. Having determined that there was no contract violation, and because the additional arguments advanced by plaintiffs were not meritorious, the Court reversed the Appellate Division's judgment holding to the contrary. View "Berg v. Christie" on Justia Law

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The issue before the New Jersey Supreme Court was a narrow one of appellate jurisdiction of an agency decision and the appropriate response by an appellate tribunal when it encounters on its calendar an interlocutory order from which leave to appeal was neither sought nor granted. A school principal was returned to teaching due to a reduction-in-force (RIF), which included elimination of all vice-principal positions throughout the school district. The principal filed a petition with the Commissioner of Education to establish her tenure and seniority rights as a vice-principal. Her employer, the Board of Education of the City of Elizabeth, challenged the validity of her principal certification, which challenge, if successful, affected her tenure and seniority rights. An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) adopted the Elizabeth Board's position, but the Commissioner rejected the Initial Decision and remanded the matter to the Office of Administrative Law (OAL) for calculation of the principal's tenure and seniority rights. The ALJ complied, the Commissioner adopted the Initial Decision, and the Elizabeth Board appealed. The Appellate Division held that the Commissioner's first decision was a final order from which the Elizabeth Board could have filed an appeal as of right. Having failed to do so, the panel concluded that the Elizabeth Board waived its right to appeal the Commissioner's first decision. The appellate panel raised the issue of the timeliness of the appeal sua sponte and determined that the Commissioner's first decision rejecting the ALJ s Initial Decision was a final order from which the employer should have taken an appeal. The Supreme Court disagreed, finding that the Commissioner's order became a final decision from which an appeal could be filed as of right only when the Commissioner adopted the decision of the ALJ following the remand proceedings. The Court therefore reversed the judgment of the Appellate Division. View "Silviera-Francisco v. Bd. of Education of the City of Elizabeth" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs James Jarrell and his wife filed a complaint against Dr. Kaul and the Market Street Surgical Center (MSSC). On summary judgment, the court found that there was no cause of action against Dr. Kaul for deceit, misrepresentation, lack of informed consent, or battery based on his failure to maintain insurance. The trial court also dismissed plaintiffs’ claims against MSSC because they lacked an expert who would testify that MSSC deviated from accepted standards of medical care by failing to properly ascertain Dr. Kaul’s credentials and by permitting an uninsured physician to perform spinal procedures in its facility. Trial proceeded against Dr. Kaul limited to the issue of medical negligence, and the jury found that Dr. Kaul negligently performed the spinal fusion, which proximately caused James Jarrell’s injury. Dr. Kaul appealed and plaintiffs cross-appealed. The Appellate Division affirmed the summary judgment orders, the jury verdict, and the damages award. The panel held that the trial court properly dismissed all claims against Dr. Kaul based on his lack of insurance because N.J.S.A.45:9-19.17 did not provide a private cause of action for injured parties. For the same reasons, the panel concluded that N.J.S.A.45:19-17(b), did not permit a direct action by a patient against a surgical center that permitted an uninsured or underinsured physician to use its facilities. The Supreme Court denied Dr. Kaul’s petition for certification, but granted plaintiffs cross-petition. Although it was undisputed that Dr. Kaul was uninsured for the procedure he performed on Jarrell, the Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal of Jarrell’s direct claim against the physician for his failure to maintain insurance. The statute imposing the medical malpractice liability insurance requirement did not expressly authorize a direct action against a noncompliant physician and neither the language nor the purpose of the statute supported such a claim. Although a reasonably prudent patient may consider a physician’s compliance with the statutorily imposed liability insurance requirement material information, lack of compliance or failure to disclose compliance does not necessarily provide the predicate for an informed consent claim. The Court reversed and remanded plaintiffs’ claim against MSSC, holding that a cause of action for negligent hiring could be asserted against a facility that granted privileges to physicians for its continuing duty to ensure that those physicians had and maintained the required medical malpractice liability insurance or have posted a suitable letter of credit that conformed with the statutory requirement. View "Jarrell v. Kaul" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Bruce Kaye, the controlling principal of three entities that sold and managed timeshare interests in resort properties in Atlantic County, hired defendant Alan Rosefielde, an attorney admitted to practice law in New York but not in New Jersey, initially as outside counsel, and then as an employee. After defendant had worked closely with plaintiff for approximately four months, the parties entered an agreement providing that, as compensation for his services, defendant would earn an annual salary of $500,000. For approximately two years, defendant served as Chief Operating Officer for several of the timeshare entities, and effectively functioned as their general counsel. In that capacity, defendant committed serious misconduct by acting on his own behalf instead of for his employers benefit, and exposing his employers to potential liability. Based on this misconduct, and dissatisfaction with defendant’s performance, plaintiff terminated defendant’s employment. Kaye, in his individual capacity and as trustee of two trusts, Kaye’s son Jason Kaye, and the business entities that Kaye owned, sued Rosefielde and several other entities. Plaintiffs asserted claims based on Rosefielde’s breach of fiduciary duty, fraud, legal malpractice, unlicensed practice of law, and breach of the duty of loyalty. Following a lengthy bench trial, the trial court found that Rosefielde engaged in egregious conduct constituting a breach of his duty of loyalty, breach of his fiduciary duty, legal malpractice, and civil fraud. The trial court rescinded Rosefielde’s interest in several entities, awarded compensatory damages, punitive damages, and legal fees, and dismissed Rosefielde’s counterclaims. It declined, however, to order the equitable disgorgement of Rosefielde’s salary as a remedy for his breach of the duty of loyalty, on the ground that his breach did not result in damage or loss to the entities that employed him. The Appellate Division affirmed that determination, and the New Jersey Supreme Court granted certification on the issue of equitable disgorgement. “In imposing the remedy of disgorgement, depending on the circumstances, a trial court should apportion the employee’s compensation, rather than ordering a wholesale disgorgement that may be disproportionate to the misconduct at issue. . . . If an agent is paid a salary apportioned to periods of time, or compensation apportioned to the completion of specified items of work, he is entitled to receive the stipulated compensation for periods or items properly completed before his renunciation or discharge. This is true even if, because of unfaithfulness or insubordination, the agent forfeits his compensation for subsequent periods or items.” The judgment of the Appellate Division was reversed with respect to the remedy of equitable disgorgement, and the matter was remanded to the trial court to decide whether plaintiffs were entitled to disgorgement. If so, the trial court should apportion Rosefielde’s compensation, ordering disgorgement only for monthly pay periods in which he committed acts of disloyalty. View "Kaye v. Rosefielde" on Justia Law

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The State’s public pension systems were defined-benefit plans, which guaranteed participants a calculable amount of benefits payable upon retirement based on the participant’s salary and time spent in the pension system. In 2011, with the enactment of L. 2011, c. 78 (Chapter 78), the Legislature added language explicitly declaring that each member of the State’s pension systems "shall have a contractual right to the annual required contribution amount" and the failure of the State to make the required contribution "shall be deemed to be an impairment of the contractual right." A separate statutory provision, enacted earlier, required the State to increase its annually required contribution (ARC) beginning with fiscal year 2012 (FY12) over the course of seven years at increments of 1/7 of the ARC per year, until the contribution covered the full ARC. The State made the required contributions in FY12 and FY13, and the Appropriations Act signed into law for FY14 included the required contributions of 3/7 of the ARC. In February 2014, the Governor released the FY15 proposed budget, which also included funding to satisfy the State’s required payment (i.e., 4/7 of the ARC). On May 20, 2014, the Governor issued Executive Order 156, which reduced the State payments into the pension systems for FY14, explaining that the reduction was due to a severe and unanticipated revenue shortfall. Instead of paying the required 3/7 of the ARC contribution, which totaled $1.582 billion, the State made a total contribution of $696 million for FY14. The next day, citing new information that placed the State’s projected revenue at less than previous projections, the State Treasurer announced that the proposed budget for FY15 was being revised to reduce the amount that would be contributed to pension systems. The revised FY15 budget thus advanced would include a total contribution of $681 million, reflecting $1.57 billion less than what was required. Plaintiffs brought this action because the prior Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 and current FY 2015 Appropriations Acts did not provide sufficient funding to meet the amounts called for under Chapter 78’s payment schedule. Plaintiffs argued that Chapter 78 created an enforceable contract that was entitled to constitutional protection against impairment. The trial court issued a detailed and comprehensive opinion that granted summary judgment to plaintiffs on their impairment-of-contract claims and denied defendants’ motion to dismiss. The court accepted the argument that Chapter 78 created a contract and that the State’s failure to appropriate the full value of ARC in the FY15 Appropriations Act substantially impaired plaintiffs’ rights under the contract. In so finding, the court rejected arguments that Chapter 78 was unenforceable as violative of the Debt Limitation Clause, the Appropriations Clause, and the gubernatorial line-item veto power. The court did not order a specific appropriation, but rather determined to give the other branches an opportunity to act in accordance with the court’s decree. The Supreme Court reversed, finding that Chapter 78 did not create a legally enforceable contract that was entitled to constitutional protection. The Debt Limitation Clause of the State Constitution interdicted the creation, in this manner, of a legally binding enforceable contract compelling multi-year financial payments in the sizable amounts called for by the statute. View "Burgos v. New Jersey" on Justia Law

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This case arose out of the tragic death of Myroslava Kotsovska, who was fatally injured when defendant Saul Liebman, for whom decedent worked as a caretaker, inadvertently struck her with his car. Petitioner Olena Kotsovska, as administratrix of the decedent's estate, filed a wrongful death action against Liebman. Liebman did not dispute that decedent's injuries were the result of his negligence. Instead, Liebman argued that, because decedent was his employee, petitioner could recover only under the Workers Compensation Act. At trial, the judge instructed the jury that it would need to decide by a preponderance of the evidence whether decedent was an employee or an independent contractor and explained the factors that it should consider in reaching that conclusion. The judge also informed the jury that it should give whatever weight it deemed appropriate to the facts. The jury returned a verdict in favor of petitioner, found that decedent was an independent contractor and awarded decedent's estate a total of $525,000 in damages. Defendant appealed, and the Appellate Division reversed. Relying on the New Jersey Supreme Court's decisions in "Kristiansen v. Morgan," (153 N.J.298 (1998)), and "Wunschel v. City of Jersey City," (96 N.J.651 (1984)), the panel concluded that the Division had primary jurisdiction over the dispute regarding decedent's employment status. The panel rejected defendant's challenges to the damages award, reversed the judgment on liability only, and remanded the matter to the Division for a determination of decedent's employment status. The Supreme Court addressed the issue of whether the Compensation Act divested the Superior Court of jurisdiction to adjudicate the decedent's employment status once defendant raised an exclusive remedy provision of the Act as an affirmative defense. Further, the Court addressed whether the jury charge was deficient enough to require reversal. After review, the Supreme Court concluded that the Superior Court had concurrent jurisdiction to resolve the dispute based on the dispute over the decedent's employment status. Further, the Court could not conclude that the jury instruction given confused or otherwise mislead the jury. Consequently, the Court reversed the Appellant Division and reinstated the jury's verdict. View "Estate of Kotsovska v. Liebman" on Justia Law