NJ Court Sides With Faculty Association Over Arbitration of Grievances

Scarinci HollenbeckThe Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court recently considered the proper body to decide grievances involving minor employee discipline by a state college. The case, Board of Trustees of Ocean County College v. Faculty Ass’n of Ocean County College, centered on the interplay of several New Jersey statutes.

The Facts of the Case 

The Board of Trustees of Ocean County College (College) sought to vacate an arbitration award in favor of the Faculty Association of Ocean County College (Association). The dispute involved a letter of reprimand to a professor for allegedly ordering a book for one of his classes without obtaining the proper approval and giving evasive answers during the subsequent investigation.

The Association filed a request for arbitration with the Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC). The College sent PERC a letter, contending that the matter was not arbitrable and that pursuant to N.J.S.A. 18A:3B- 6(f), the College had exclusive jurisdiction to decide grievances involving employee discipline.

The Court’s Decision

The Appellate Division affirmed the decision of the trial court, finding that the grievance was an arbitrable dispute. It rejected the College’s argument that N.J.S.A. 18A:3B-6(f) gives the Board of Trustees exclusive jurisdiction to decide disputes concerning personnel matters.

“In essence, the College is arguing that the [collective negotiation agreement], to which it agreed, is ultra vires. That argument is frivolous,” the justices stated in the opinion.

As the court further explained, “The Act [which includes N.J.S.A. 18A:3B-6(f)] was clearly intended to free the public colleges from the Department of Higher Education’s control over their operational decisions, including personnel issues. However, nothing in the Act’s history suggests that it was intended to preclude public colleges from complying with other pre-existing State laws concerning labor relations, or from reaching agreements with their faculty associations concerning the arbitration of minor disciplinary grievances.”

With regard to other applicable statutes, the court noted that N.J.S.A. 34:13A- 5.3 requires public employers to negotiate written grievance and disciplinary review procedures, which may include arbitration of disputes. In addition, N.J.S.A. 34:13A-29 requires the use of binding arbitration “as the terminal step [of the negotiated grievance procedures] with respect to disputes concerning imposition of reprimands” and other minor discipline. Lastly, N.J.S.A. 18A:64A-13 gives county college professors “all the rights and privileges” of public school teachers.

In this case, the court further found that the right to arbitration follows from the parties’ collective negotiations agreement. It noted that “the College and the Association agreed that disputes over ‘alleged violations of any promulgated rules, procedures, or policy of the Administration or Board of Trustees affecting terms and conditions of employment’ could be made the subject of a grievance, and could be resolved at arbitration.

For more information about this case or the legal issues involved, we encourage you to contact a member of Scarinci Hollenbeck’s Public Law Group.

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