Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of New Jersey
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Plaintiff Jed Goldfarb claimed defendant David Solimine reneged on a promise of employment after Goldfarb quit his job to accept the promised position managing the sizeable investment portfolio of defendant’s family. The key issue in this appeal involved whether plaintiff could bring a promissory estoppel claim because he relied on defendant’s promise in quitting his prior employment even though, under New Jersey’s Uniform Securities Law of 1997 (Securities Law or the Act), he could not bring a suit on the employment agreement itself. The New Jersey Supreme Court determined the Securities Law did not bar plaintiff’s promissory estoppel claim for reliance damages. The Court affirmed the liability judgment on that claim and the remanded for a new damages trial in which plaintiff would have the opportunity to prove reliance damages. The Court found he was not entitled to benefit-of-the-bargain damages. To the extent that the Appellate Division relied on an alternative basis for its liability holding -- that a later-adopted federal law “family office” exception had been incorporated into the Securities Law -- the Court rejected that reasoning and voided that portion of the appellate court’s analysis. View "Goldfarb v. Solimine" on Justia Law

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Under New Jersey’s Worker’s Compensation Act, an employee injured during a social or recreational activity generally cannot receive compensation for those injuries unless a two-part exception is met. Here, the New Jersey Supreme Court considered whether the injuries sustained by claimant Kim Goulding at an event hosted by her employer were compensable. The workers’ compensation court dismissed Goulding’s claim, determining that "Family Fun Day" was a social or recreational event and that the two-part test of N.J.S.A. 34:15-7 was not satisfied. The Appellate Division affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, finding the injury Goulding sustained while volunteering at her employer-sponsored event was compensable because, as to Goulding, the event was not a social or recreational activity. Even if N.J.S.A. 34:15-7 was applicable here, Goulding would still have satisfied the two-part exception set forth in that statute. Her role at the event, which was planned to be held annually, was the same as her role as an employee, and but for her employment at Friendship House, Goulding would not have been asked to volunteer and would not have been injured. Thus, Goulding’s injury was “a regular incident of employment.” Furthermore, the Court found Friendship House received a benefit from Family Fun Day “beyond improvement in employee health and morale.” The event was not a closed event for the Friendship House team. Rather, it was an outreach event to celebrate and benefit Friendship House’s clients, creating goodwill in the community. View "Goulding v. NJ Friendship House, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Elmer Branch brought a putative class action against his employer, defendant Cream-O-Land Dairy, on behalf of himself and similarly situated truck drivers employed by defendant, for payment of overtime wages pursuant to the New Jersey Wage and Hour Law (WHL). The WHL created an exemption from an overtime compensation requirement for employees of a “trucking industry employer.” In response to plaintiff’s argument that defendant failed to pay truck drivers as mandated by N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a4(b)(1), defendant argued that it was exempt from that provision as a trucking industry employer under N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a4(f). Defendant also asserted that it was entitled to invoke the absolute defense set forth in N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a25.2 because it had relied in good faith on three matters in which the Department had investigated its operations and concluded that it was a “trucking industry employer.” The trial court viewed those decisions to satisfy N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a25.2’s standard for the good-faith defense and granted summary judgment dismissing plaintiff’s claims. The Appellate Division reversed, finding that none of the determinations on which defendant relied met the requirements of the good-faith defense under the plain language of N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a25.2. The Appellate Division also rejected defendant’s invocation of a 2006 Opinion Letter by the Director of the Division that for certain employees of trucking industry employers, N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a4 “establishes their overtime rate at 1 1/2 times the minimum wage” because defendant did not represent that it had relied on that letter when it determined its overtime compensation. The New Jersey Supreme Court concurred with the Appellate Division that none of the decisions identified by defendant satisfied the requirements of the good-faith defense under the plain language of N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a25.2. The Court acknowledged, however, the dilemma faced by an employer such as defendant, which repeatedly prevailed in overtime disputes before subordinate Department employees but was unable to seek a ruling from the Commissioner of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development (Commissioner) because each of those disputes was resolved without further review. This matter was remanded to the trial court for consideration of defendant’s argument that it was a trucking-industry employer within the meaning of N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a4(f), and for determination of whether defendant complied with the applicable WHL overtime standards in compensating its employees. View "Branch v. Cream-O-Land Dairy" on Justia Law

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Pfizer’s Human Resources Department sent an e-mail to Pfizer employees at their corporate e-mail addresses announcing Pfizer’s five-page Mutual Arbitration and Class Waiver Agreement (Agreement) and included a link to that document. The e-mail also included a included a link to a document that listed “Frequently Asked Questions,” including “Do I have to agree to this?” to which the response indicated, “The Arbitration Agreement is a condition of continued employment with the Company. If you begin or continue working for the Company sixty (60) days after receipt of this Agreement, it will be a contractual agreement that binds both you and the Company.” The “FAQs” document also encouraged any employee who had “legal questions” about the Agreement “to speak to [his or her] own attorney.” Pfize terminated Amy Skuse's employment in August 2017, and Skuse filed a complaint alleging that Pfizer and the individual defendants violated the Law Against Discrimination by terminating her employment because of her religious objection to being vaccinated for yellow fever. Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint and to compel arbitration. Skuse opposed the motion, contending that she was not bound by Pfizer’s Agreement, arguing that she was asked only to acknowledge the Agreement, not to assent to it, and that she never agreed to arbitrate her claims. The trial court dismissed Skuse’s complaint and directed her to proceed to arbitration in accordance with the Agreement. The Appellate Division reversed, identifying three aspects of Pfizer’s communications to Skuse as grounds for its decision: Pfizer’s use of e-mails to disseminate the Agreement to employees already inundated with e-mails; its use of a “training module” or a training “activity” to explain the Agreement; and its instruction that Skuse click her computer screen to “acknowledge” her obligation to assent to the Agreement in the event that she remained employed for sixty days, not to “agree” to the Agreement. The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed, finding the Agreement was valid and binding, and held the trial court was correct in enforcing it. View "Skuse v. Pfizer, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Ridgefield Park Board of Education (Board) and the Ridgefield Park Education Association (Association) negotiated a collective negotiations agreement (CNA) covering 2011-2014 that went into effect three days after the New Jersey Legislature enacted Chapter 78. The 2011-2014 CNA expired before the employees achieved full implementation of the premium share set forth in N.J.S.A. 52:14-17.28c (Tier 4). After the 2011-2014 CNA expired, the Board and the Association negotiated a CNA covering 2014-2018, which, like its predecessor, stated that employees would contribute 1.5% of their salary towards health insurance or the minimum set forth by statute, regulation, or code. During the 2014-2015 school year, the employees contributed to the cost of their health care at the full premium share required by Tier 4. The Board and the Association disputed Chapter 78’s impact on employee contributions for the CNA’s remaining three years. The Board contended that Chapter 78 preempted any negotiated term for those contributions and that the Association’s members were required to contribute to their health benefits at the Tier 4 level for the duration of the CNA. The Association contended that Chapter 78 did not preempt the 1.5% contribution rate set forth in the 2014-2018 CNA. PERC held that the health insurance premium contribution rate set forth in the 2014-2018 CNA was preempted by Chapter 78 and granted the Board’s request for a restraint of binding arbitration as to that issue. The Appellate Division reversed, determining that adherence to Chapter 78’s plain language would bring about an “absurd result” contravening legislative intent, and required the employees to contribute only 1.5% of their salaries for the three contested years. The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed, finding the health insurance premium contribution rates paid by the Association’s members were preempted by statute and therefore non-negotiable. PERC’s construction of Chapter 78 comported with the statute’s language and the Legislature’s stated objective to achieve a long-term solution to a fiscal crisis. View "In the Matter of Ridgefield Park Board of Education" on Justia Law

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This appeal involved a challenge to the City of Newark’s authority to create by ordinance a civilian oversight board to provide a greater role for civilian participation in the review of police internal investigations and in the resolution of civilian complaints. The Fraternal Order of Police, Newark Lodge No. 12 (FOP) filed a complaint claiming that the Ordinance was unlawful. Based on the record and arguments presented on cross-motions for summary judgment, the trial court held the Ordinance invalid and enjoined its operation in virtually all respects. The court left intact, however, the Ordinance’s grant of authority to the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) to conduct general oversight functions, including aiding in the development of a disciplinary matrix for use by the police force. The Appellate Division invalidated the Ordinance’s required treatment of the CCRB’s investigatory findings, determining that the binding nature of the CCRB’s findings, absent clear error, impermissibly “makes the CCRB’s factual findings paramount to the findings of the IA department.” The New Jersey Supreme Court modified the Appellate Division's judgment, concluding: (1) state law permitted the creation by ordinance of this civilian board with its overall beneficial oversight purpose; (2) the board’s powers must comply with current legislative enactments unless the Legislature refines the law to specifically authorize certain functions that Newark intends to confer on its review board; (3) board can investigate citizen complaints alleging police misconduct, and those investigations may result in recommendations to the Public Safety Director for the pursuit of discipline against a police officer; (4) the board cannot exercise its investigatory powers when a concurrent investigation is conducted by the Newark Police Department’s Internal Affairs (IA) unit; and (5) where there is no existing IA investigation, the review board may conduct investigations in its own right. In addition, the review board could conduct its oversight function by reviewing the overall operation of the police force, including the performance of its IA function in its totality or its pattern of conduct, and provide the called-for periodic reports to the officials and entities as prescribed by municipal ordinance. View "Fraternal Order of Police, Newark Lodge No. 12 v. City of Newark" on Justia Law

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Jenny Craig, Inc. hired Marilyn Flanzman to work as a weight maintenance counselor in 1991. In May 2011, Flanzman signed a document entitled “Arbitration Agreement” in connection with her employment. In February 2017, when the dispute that led to this appeal arose, Flanzman was eighty-two years old. Flanzman’s managers informed her that her hours would be reduced from thirty-five to nineteen hours per week. In April 2017, Flanzman’s managers further reduced her hours to approximately thirteen hours per week. In June 2017, they reduced her hours to three hours per week, at which point she left her employment. Flanzman brought suit, asserting claims for age discrimination, constructive discharge, discriminatory discharge, and harassment. Relying on the Agreement, defendants moved to dismiss the complaint and to compel arbitration. Defendants contended that California law governed the Agreement and that the Agreement was enforceable. The trial court granted the motion to dismiss and ordered the parties to arbitrate Flanzman’s claims. It held that California law governed the arbitration and that the proper forum was assumed to be California. Finding no reversible error, the New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's judgment. View "Flanzman v. Jenny Craig, Inc." on Justia Law

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New Jersey Transit Corporation (New Jersey Transit) sought to recover workers’ compensation benefits paid to an employee, David Mercogliano, who sustained injuries in a work-related motor vehicle accident. It sued the individuals allegedly at fault in the accident, defendants Sandra Sanchez and Chad Smith, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 34:15-40, a provision of the Workers’ Compensation Act that authorized employers and workers’ compensation carriers that have paid workers’ compensation benefits to injured employees to assert subrogation claims. The issue this case presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court's review was whether that subrogation action was barred by the Auto Insurance Cost Recovery Act (AICRA). The trial court granted defendants’ motion, ruling that New Jersey Transit could not assert a claim based on economic loss. It noted that N.J.S.A. 39:6A-2(k) defined economic loss for purposes of AICRA to mean “uncompensated loss of income or property, or other uncompensated expenses, including, but not limited to, medical expenses.” In the trial court’s view, because New Jersey Transit’s workers’ compensation carrier paid benefits for all of Mercogliano’s medical expenses and lost income, he had no “uncompensated loss of income or property,” and thus sustained no economic loss for purposes of AICRA. The trial court relied on Continental Insurance Co. v. McClelland, 288 N.J. Super. 185 (App. Div. 1996), and policy considerations in reaching its decision. The Appellate Division reversed that judgment, agreeing with New Jersey Transit that its subrogation action arose entirely from “economic loss comprised of medical expenses and wage loss, not noneconomic loss.” However, it rejected the trial court’s view that an employer’s or workers’ compensation carrier’s subrogation claim based on benefits paid for economic loss contravened AICRA’s legislative intent. Finding no error in the appellate court's judgment, the New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed. View "New Jersey Transit Corporation v. Sanchez" on Justia Law

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By calling a teacher’s instructional work in a specialized and separate school district educational program, provided outside of regular school instructional hours, an “extracurricular assignment,” the school district claimed the teacher had no tenure protection to that position and had no recourse when she was replaced by a non-tenured teacher and suffered a loss in compensation. The district wrapped the label “extracurricular” around the assignment even though the after-hours instructional program was provided by the school district in order to fulfill core curriculum requirements for certain students unable to fulfill those requirements through the school district’s day program. The teaching position in which petitioner served in the alternative education program was tenure eligible. Indeed, the Board of Education and the Commissioner both conceded that a person serving in that “BookBinders” position exclusively for the requisite period of time would have been entitled to tenure. But petitioner was denied tenure because she already held tenure in a teaching position in the district’s regular-education day-instruction program. After review, of the Commissioner of Education’s decision regarding the teacher’s tenure, the New Jersey Supreme Court concluded petitioner met the statutory criteria for tenure, and that she was entitled to a remedy for the violation of her right not to be removed or reduced in salary while protected by tenure for her work in the BookBinders program. View "Melnyk v. Board of Education of the Delsea Regional High School District" on Justia Law

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David and Christine Minsavage were married and had four children. David had served as a math teacher for more than twenty-four years when he was diagnosed with terminal stage IV pancreatic cancer in August 2014. In November 2014, following advice allegedly provided by a New Jersey Education Association representative, David selected the “early retirement” option on his retirement application. Early retirement eligibility required twenty-five years of teaching service. David passed away in April 2015, having accumulated just over twenty-four years and nine months of teaching service over the course of his career. Less than two weeks after David’s death, the Division of Pension and Benefits notified Christine that David’s retirement application would not be approved because he had not completed twenty-five years of teaching service. As a result, Christine was entitled only to reimbursement of David’s pension contributions and a group life insurance benefit. Because David did not live long enough to qualify for early retirement, his family would have been entitled to greater benefits had he selected and qualified for “ordinary disability,” rather than “early retirement,” on his retirement application. Christine sought to modify David’s retirement application to select ordinary disability. The Board of Trustees of the Pension Fund (the Board) denied Christine’s request on the ground that the Pension Fund’s “administrative regulations do not allow for retroactive disability retirement applications, and become effective only on or after the date of filing.” The Appellate Division affirmed. The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed, however, finding that neither membership nor prior approval of a retirement application was required for modification of a retirement selection where good cause, reasonable grounds, and reasonable diligence were shown. The Court remanded this matter for further proceedings to allow Christine the opportunity to argue in favor of modification under that standard. View "Minsavage v. Board of Trustees, Teachers' Pension and Annuity Fund" on Justia Law