Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in New Jersey Supreme Court
In re Foglio
The issue before the Supreme Court was whether the statement of reasons issued by the City of Ocean City adequately explained why a candidate for firefighter was bypassed for appointment in favor of two candidates who ranked lower on a competitive civil service examination. In 2007, the City of Ocean City (the City) sought to fill three vacant firefighter positions. On May 24, 2007, a list of eligible candidates for the positions was certified by the Civil Service Commission (Commission) to the City, the appointing authority. Each candidate on the eligible list was ranked according to scores obtained on a competitive examination. Nicholas Foglio ranked second on that list. At the time the list was certified, Foglio had served for eight years as a fireman/emergency medical technician (EMT) in multiple volunteer fire departments, logging over one-thousand total hours. Foglio was the only candidate on the eligible list with any prior firefighting experience and training. The City appointed eligible candidates ranked first (a student-teacher), third (a bartender), and fourth (a lifeguard), bypassing Foglio. In accordance with the provisions of state law, the City reported to the Department of Personnel (DOP) that it had bypassed Foglio, a higher-ranked candidate, because the two lower-ranked eligible candidates best met the needs of Department. Foglio sought review by the Commission. The Commission concluded that Foglio had failed to satisfy his burden to show by a preponderance of the evidence that the appointing authorityâs decision to bypass him was improper. In its ruling, it observed that the appointing authority selected two lower-ranked eligible candidates because "they best met the needsâ of the fire department. Because Foglio did not assert, much less prove, an unlawful motive, such as discrimination or political influence, the Commission held that, "the appointing authorityâs bypass of [Foglioâs] name on the Fire Fighter eligible list was proper." Upon review, the Supreme Court found that the City should have provided a statement of "legitimate" reasons for the bypass. Here, the reason advanced was boilerplate and insufficient to satisfy the appointing authorityâs reporting obligation. The Court reversed and remanded the case for further proceedings.
Donelson v. DuPont Chambers Works
Defendant DuPont Chambers Works (DuPont) manufactures chemical products, and employed Plaintiff John Seddon for approximately thirty years. In 2002, Mr. Seddon worked as an operator technician in one of DuPont's facilities. Among Mr. Seddon's duties was to ensure the safe operation of equipment and the safe handling of chemicals in the building. Mr. Seddon expressed concern over certain dangerous conditions he saw at the plant. When DuPont did nothing to ameliorate the situation, Mr. Seddon filed an OSHA complaint. From 2003 to 2005, Mr. Seddon alleged that DuPont retaliated against him for making the OSHA complaint by cutting his overtime, reducing his work hours, changing his shifts, and giving him poor performance evaluations. He filed suit against DuPont under the state Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA). A jury returned a verdict in Mr. Seddon's favor and awarded him over $2 million for wages lost as a result of DuPont's actions. The award also included punitive damages and attorney fees. DuPont appealed, and the appellate court reversed and entered judgment in favor of DuPont. The appellate court concluded that Mr. Seddon could not prevail on a lost-wage claim under the CEPA unless he proved "actual or constructive discharge," and vacated the $2 million damages award. On appeal to the Supreme Court, Mr. Seddon challenged the appellate court's holding that he had to prove "lost-wages" under CEPA. Upon consideration of the briefs and the applicable legal authorities, the Supreme Court reversed the appellate court. The Court found that lost wages are recoverable in a CEPA case, even in the absence of a "constructive discharge." The Court reinstated the jury verdict and damages award in favor of Mr. Seddon.
Russo v. Bd. of Trustees, Police & Firemen’s Retirement Sys.
In 2001, Petitioner Police Officer Gregory Russo and his partner responded to a house fire. Officer Russo went into the burning structure, located an adult and two children trapped inside and saved them. The officer heard cries for help on the second floor, and went back inside to try to find more persons trapped by the fire. When inside, the intense heat and smoke overwhelmed him. Firefighters escorted the officer from the burning building, but not before the person who had cried out for help had died. Outside, the officer received first aid, and witnessed firefighters remove the victim from the burning building. Firefighters laid the victimâs body on the lawn in front of Officer Russo. The family blamed the officer for the victimâs death. The officer later reported he had trouble sleeping, stomach disorders, suicidal thoughts and depression. Eventually the officer would be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Officer Russo applied for âaccidentalâ disability retirement benefits in 2004. The Police & Firemanâs Retirement System Board of Trustees had an expert evaluate Officer Russo. He would be classified as âtotally and permanently disabledâ as a result of the fire in 2001. The Board, however, denied Officer Russoâs claim, and granted him an âordinaryâ disability pension. The Officer appealed, and a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). While the ALJâs decision was pending, the Supreme Court decided âPatterson v. Board of Trustees, State Police Retirement System,â which addressed the applicable standards to determining accidental disability pensions. The ALJ concluded that Officer Russo was eligible for an accidental disability pension. The Board adopted the ALJâs findings, but rejected the decision. The appellate court upheld the Boardâs conclusion that Officer Russo did not qualify for accidental disability benefits. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that the officer was improperly denied accidental disability benefits for his injury because both the Board and appellate court misapplied the standards set out in its decision in the âPattersonâ case. The Court reversed the appeals courtâs decision and remanded the case to the Board for further proceedings.