N.J. SUPREME COURT

Headen v. Jersey City Board of Education

EDUCATION — Civil Service — Employee Benefits

New Jersey Law Journal

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Headen v. Jersey City Board of Education, A-17 September Term 2011; Supreme Court; opinion by LaVecchia, J.; decided November 15, 2012. On certification to the Appellate Division, 420 N.J. Super. 105 (App. Div. 2011). [Sat below: Judges Axelrad, Lihotz and Harris in the Appellate Division.] DDS No. 25-1-xxxx [25 pp.]

Plaintiff Valeria Headen is employed by defendant Jersey City Board of Education as a food service worker on a full-time 10-month basis. The district is subject to the Civil Service Act, N.J.S.A. 11A:1-1 to 12-6, because it opted to adopt Title 11A. Plaintiff filed a complaint against the board alleging that because the district is governed by the act, she and potential class members are entitled to vacation leave under 11A:6-3 and -7. The former establishes the minimum amount of vacation leave required for full-time employees of political subdivisions. The latter provides that part-time employees are to be provided proportionate vacation, sick and administrative leave. N.J.A.C. 4A:6-1.2 specifies how such leave shall be calculated.

When plaintiff filed suit, the terms and conditions of her employment were governed through a collectively negotiated agreement that provided her with 28 paid days off during the school year (11 for recesses, 2 for conventions and 15 for holidays).

The trial court granted defendant's motion for summary judgment and dismissed the complaint, concluding that the act's vacation leave provisions are inapplicable to 10-month school employees of plaintiff's class. The Appellate Division affirmed.

Plaintiff claims that the district is a political subdivision bound by the act as a whole because it elected to adopt the provisions of the act, and that she is entitled to receive vacation leave consistent with N.J.S.A. 11A:6-3 and N.J.A.C. 4A:6-1.2(e). Defendant argues that the act does not apply because a school district is not a political subdivision for the act's leave calculation purposes and that plaintiff's vacation leave is governed only by the CNA pursuant to which she receives 28 days of leave time during the academic year, which is more than any entitlement under the act.

Held: The Civil Service Act's paid vacation leave provisions apply to career service, nonteaching staff employees of school districts that have opted to be part of the civil service system, including 10-month employees like plaintiff. The act and its implementing regulations establish a floor for the amount of leave to be provided. This action properly was dismissed because a collectively negotiated agreement has already provided plaintiff with more than the minimum paid vacation leave to which she is entitled under the act.

Leave time for employees in the public sector is a term and condition of employment within the scope of negotiations, unless the term is set by a statute or regulation. The opt-in provisions of Chapter 9 are available to any "political subdivision," specifically including school districts, that was not a participant in the civil service system when Title 11A was adopted. Title 11A treats school districts that have opted to adopt it as political subdivisions subject to all obligations under the act, except where there is a specific exemption. Because neither 11A:6-3 nor -7 contain an exemption, the court rejects the argument that Title 11A's provisions governing vacation leave for employees of political subdivisions were not meant to apply to career civil service school district employees.

The court says the plain language of 11A:6-3 clearly sets the minimum vacation leave that must be available to full-time career employees of civil service political subdivisions. Nothing in the act overtly states, or implies, that some other provision of law must apply in determining the right to paid vacation leave for full-time school district employees, outside of a CNA agreeing to more than the statutory minimum.

Although Title 18A contains provisions addressing accrued vacation leave for certain school board employees, nothing in those provisions conflicts with Title 11A's vacation leave. Moreover, the Title 18A enactments do not indicate that Title 11A's leave provision was not intended to apply to career employees in civil service school districts. Thus, the Title 18A provisions do not show any intent to override Title 11A's applicability and only the act applies in assessing plaintiff's claim.

N.J.A.C. 4A:6-1.2(b) addresses full-time "local employees." Subsection (e) addresses part-time and 10-month employees. After reiterating the well-established principles governing statutory interpretation, the court says the regulatory requirements in (b) and (e), in combination, plainly address 10-month employees. It rejects defendant's argument that (e) contemplates only 10-month state employees, declining to read in a narrowing term that the Civil Service Commission did not insert. It also rejects the claim that the commission lacked authority to promulgate this rule, viewing (e)'s crafting of proportionate time for 10-month employees as a reasonable interpretation of the statute over which the commission has regulatory authority.

Under 4A:6-1.2(e), plaintiff is entitled to 10/12ths of the time allowed to a full-time employee under 4A:6-1.2(b), or 10 days of paid vacation leave. The CNA provides her with more than this amount. That the leave must be taken on school breaks does not mean that it is not paid vacation leave. Thus, she received more than the paid vacation leave to which she was entitled under Title 11A. The trial court's dismissal of her complaint was appropriate and the Appellate Division judgment affirming that dismissal is affirmed.

Chief Justice Rabner and Justices Albin, Hoens and Patterson join in Justice LaVecchia's opinion.

For appellant — Mark Pfeffer (Goldenberg, Mackler, Sayegh, Mintz, Pfeffer, Bonchi & Gill). For respondent — Robert E. Levy (Scarinci & Hollenbeck; Levy, Kathleen J. Devlin, Candida J. Griffin and Charles H. Friedrich on the briefs). For amicus curiae New Jersey School Boards Association — Donna M. Kaye (Cynthia J. Jahn, General Counsel).

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