In In the Matter of Officer Gregory DiGuglielmo & New Jersey Institute of Technology (A-33-21/085064) (Decided November 28, 2022), the Supreme Court of New Jersey held that special disciplinary arbitration administered by the Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) is available to police officers at public colleges and universities when appealing a suspension or termination.
Facts of the Case
The case centered on whether New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) Officer Gregory DiGuglielmo, who was suspended with pay and then terminated from his position, is ineligible to challenge his termination through special disciplinary arbitration pursuant to N.J.S.A. 40A:14-210 either because he was not a municipal police officer or because he was suspended with pay.
After pursuing and using physical force to restrain a juvenile bicyclist, Officer DiGuglielmo was placed on leave with pay and then terminated. He filed a challenge to his termination with the New Jersey Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC), requesting “special disciplinary arbitration” pursuant to N.J.S.A. 40A:14-210. The statute defines the term as “any police force, department, or division within the State, or any county or municipality thereof, which is empowered by statute to act for the detection, investigation, arrest, conviction, detention, or rehabilitation of persons violating the criminal laws of this State.”
NJIT objected, claiming that appeal forum is only for municipal police in non-civil service jurisdictions. PERC held Officer DiGuglielmo was eligible for special disciplinary arbitration and appointed an arbitrator.
The Appellate Division reversed, holding that special disciplinary arbitration was available only to municipal officers because N.J.S.A. 40A:14-209 and -210 incorporate by reference the terms and limitations found in N.J.S.A. 40A:14-150, which only applies to municipal officers not subject to civil service. The appeals court further held that, even if special disciplinary arbitration was available to campus police officers, Officer DiGuglielmo was nevertheless ineligible because he was not suspended without pay.
NJ Supreme Court’s Decision
The New Jersey Supreme Court reinstated PERC’s decision. It held that a plain reading of the relevant statutes dictates that special disciplinary arbitration is not limited to municipal officers, so arbitration is available to public university police officers like Officer DiGuglielmo. The court further held that pursuant to N.J.S.A. 40A:14-210, an officer suspended with pay prior to termination is eligible to engage in special disciplinary arbitration.
The New Jersey Supreme Court first addressed whether Section 150 precludes NJIT police officers like Officer DiGuglielmo from appealing adverse employment determinations through special disciplinary arbitration. It concluded that a plain reading of Sections 209 and 210 does not indicate that the Legislature intended the references to Section 150 to limit special disciplinary arbitration to municipal officers.
“The Appellate Division held that the lone reference to Section 150 in Section 209 operates to bar Officer DiGuglielmo’s eligibility for special disciplinary arbitration because he ‘was not employed by a municipal law enforcement agency.’ That holding is contrary to the plain language of Sections 200 and 209,” the court wrote. “As noted, the term ‘law enforcement agency,’ as defined in Section 200, is in no way limited to a ‘municipal law enforcement agency.’ We therefore hold that NJIT police officers are not barred from seeking review of disciplinary action through special disciplinary arbitration by virtue of Section 150.” The New Jersey Supreme Court next addressed the Appellate Division’s conclusion that special disciplinary arbitration was not available to Officer DiGuglielmo because he was suspended with pay. In reversing the appeals court, the New Jersey Supreme Court noted that there is no requirement in Section 210 that the officer have been suspended without pay. Rather, the Section 210 cross-reference to Section 209 is limited to the ineligibility of officers facing criminal charges. According to the court, a plain reading of Section 210 does not indicate that the Legislature intended the suspension without pay language from Section 209 to be inserted into Section 210.