The Supreme Court of New Jersey has agreed to address whether campus police should be considered police forces like those serving New Jersey municipalities. The specific issue before the court in In the Matter of Gregory DiGuglielmo and New Jersey Institute of Technology is whether a campus police officer who has been terminated by a State university or college because of alleged non-criminal misconduct may challenge his termination through what is known as “special disciplinary arbitration” administered by the Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC), pursuant to N.J.S.A. 40A:14-209 and -210.
Facts of the Case
Gregory DiGuglielmo was a police officer employed by the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) Department of Public Safety. Officer DiGuglielmo was issued a Notice of Termination for his conduct that allegedly occurred during a pursuit of a juvenile bicyclist on August 26, 2019.
As detailed in court documents, NJIT suspended Officer DiGuglielmo with pay on August 27, 2019, and notified him that he was the subject of an internal affairs investigation for his alleged misconduct. NJIT referred the matter to the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office to determine if criminal charges arising from the alleged use of excessive force should be issued against Officer DiGuglielmo. In October 2019, the Prosecutor’s Office advised NJIT that “there [was] insufficient credible evidence to warrant a criminal prosecution” of the matter.
On November 15, 2019, Officer DiGuglielmo was served with a Disposition Letter and Notice of Disciplinary Action, which notified him that NJIT’s internal investigation had sustained eleven charges against him for violating seven Department Rules and Regulations. Thereafter, on December 20, 2019, NJIT served upon the officer a letter formally notifying him that he was being terminated for cause. On January 8, 2020, Officer DiGuglielmo and his counsel filed with PERC a challenge to his termination and a request for special disciplinary arbitration under N.J.S.A. 40A:14-209 and -210. NJIT objected to that request, contending that Officer DiGuglielmo was not legally eligible for the arbitration.
NJIT argued Officer DiGuglielmo was ineligible because he worked for an institution of higher education rather than a municipal police department. NJIT further maintained such arbitration was not available because Officer DiGuglielmo was not suspended without pay. In addition, NJIT argued that Officer DiGuglielmo allegedly waived any rights he had to special disciplinary arbitration because he did not follow procedures in the collective negotiations agreement (CNA) between NJIT and his labor union.
The Commission rejected NJIT’s arguments. It held, consistent with its administrative rulings in other cases involving campus police officers and its regulations, that Officer DiGuglielmo was entitled to special arbitration as a matter of law. Among other things, the Commission determined that the NJIT police force is a “law enforcement agency” within the meaning of N.J.S.A. 40A:14-200, and that its officers who have been terminated for non-criminal conduct may elect under N.J.S.A. 40A:14-209 and -210 to have the Commission appoint a special arbitrator to conduct a hearing and evaluate whether the officer’s discharge is justified. The Commission found that university police officers are not excluded from the special arbitration program because they work for an institution of higher education. The Commission rejected other arguments presented by NJIT
Appellate Division Decision
The Appellate Division affirmed the Commission’s determination that the NJIT police force is a “law enforcement agency” within the meaning of N.J.S.A. 40A:14-200. However, it further concluded the NJIT officers are not eligible for special disciplinary arbitration because that option is restricted by N.J.S.A. 40A:14-150 to officers who work for municipal police departments in jurisdictions that are not part of the civil service system. “By any stretch of the imagination NJIT simply isn’t a ‘municipality.’ Consequently, special disciplinary arbitration is unavailable to its officers,” the court explained.
The Appellate Division went on to hold that even if the statutory restriction under N.J.S.A. 40A:14-150 did not pertain, Officer DiGuglielmo is ineligible because he was not suspended without pay, as required by N.J.S.A. 40A:14-209 and -210. Accordingly, the court rejected NJIT’s waiver argument because N.J.S.A. 40A:14-210(b) confers a statutory right upon eligible officers to file a special disciplinary arbitration request with the Commission within twenty days of receiving notice of their termination.
Issues Before the New Jersey Supreme Court
The New Jersey Supreme Court granted certification on December 10, 2021. The justices agreed to consider the following question: “Is a campus police officer at a public college or university eligible for special disciplinary arbitration administered by the Public Employment Relations Commission?”