The Superior Court of New Jersey’s Appellate Division has reversed a ruling by New Jersey’s commissioner of education in a case involving a former Board of Education employee against Verona public schools.
In a decision released on January 22, the court found that the commissioner had erred in finding that Judith A. DiNapoli had retained her secretarial tenure rights and could “bump” a non-tenured employee when her then position of assistant school business administrator was eliminated.
DiNapoli, who unsuccessfully ran for the BOE last year, had filed suit against the district in 2011, arguing that she should have been offered a secretarial position in the district after her position as assistant business administrator was eliminated. DiNapoli had been a district employee since 1977, largely in non-tenured positions.
An administrative law judge for the state initially ruled against the Board of Ed, and the commissioner of education confirmed that decision. The Board of Ed appealed both rulings, a decision that was often questioned by members of the public at school board meetings because of the perceived cost of the appeals. The BOE offered to work out a settlement with DiNapoli in 2012, but that offer was declined. The BOE incurred $53,497 in fees to pursue the case.
Reached by email, DiNapoli said she was “not surprised” at the decision, but she noted that she had filed a claim of tenure appeal because she was concerned that, due to the economic situation in 2011 and her age, she would not be able to find a new job. “Fortunately, I was able to gain employment as a school accountant over a year ago, so this decision does not have any significant impact on me at the present time,” DiNapoli said. “As I have always contended, my claim was not about getting a monetary award — I just wanted to be able to work and make a living.”
DiNapoli did note that the decision suggests that she had “voluntarily” accepted the position change at Verona and in so doing knowingly gave up her right to tenure. But she says that there is no official record in the BOE minutes of her official appointment to the position of assistant business administrator and that, when she got her contract in 2009, she did question how some of the contract language would affect her tenure. She adds that, “I probably should have questioned all of this to a greater extent since, I trusted that the Verona Board of Education was knowledgeable of tenure rights and their responsibility to discuss this with me prior to my ‘promotion’ and also that they would have followed proper procedure according to policy with regards to new titles or positions.”