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Evaul v. Board of Education

Decided: January 6, 1961.


Price, Gaulkin and Sullivan. The opinion of the court was delivered by Price, S.j.a.d. Sullivan, J.A.D. (dissenting).


[65 NJSuper Page 70] Appellant seeks to reverse the decision of the State Board of Education affirming, without written opinion, the decision of the Commissioner of Education which determined that respondent's acceptance of appellant's resignation as a high school teacher in the Camden public school system had legally terminated her employment on March 13,

1959. The State Board based its decision on the reasons expressed in the Commissioner's written opinion.

Appellant alleges that the document, which she had written and signed, and which had been accepted by respondent as her resignation, was not such in fact and, in any event, was void because she had not intended that it be considered as a formal declaration of the termination of her position as a teacher; that it had not been legally directed to or tendered to the respondent school board; and moreover was the "product of fraud, coercion and duress," to which she had been subjected by her superiors at a time when, to their knowledge, she was emotionally distressed. She further contends that the purported acceptance of her resignation at a special meeting of the school board was void as beyond the scope of the announced purpose of that meeting. The resignation was couched in the following language:

"March 13, 1959

Dr. A. R. Catrambone,

Because it seems impossible to resolve the false accusations, the misunderstandings, the attacks on my reputation (not my character), and the constant references to ridiculous stories of my past history, I hereby offer my resignation from the Camden School System. No one seems interested in clearing up these matters.

Sincerely yours,

Florence Smith Evaul"

Appellant had been a teacher in the Camden public school system since 1934. Although during her employment she had not been suspended and had not been the object of any formal charges, her superiors in the school system asserted that within the last few years she had exhibited a quarrelsome disposition; that certain irritating situations in connection with her work had arisen, which they attributed to lack of cooperation on her part, and which, they claimed, had caused disharmony in the school system. They contended that by March 1959 conditions had reached a point of such seriousness that a conference meeting with appellant was deemed imperative. Such a meeting, called

by the president of the school board, was held on March 13, 1959 at about 11:30 A.M. in the office of the principal of the high school in which appellant taught. In attendance were appellant, the principal, the superintendent of schools and the school board's president.

The meeting, lasting about 40 minutes, was an acrimonious one. It was concerned with a variety of subjects, including appellant's alleged quarrels with other teachers, the disrespect which, it was asserted, she had shown for the head of her department, her controversies with the principal of the high school and her criticism of the superintendent and of the school board's president. The record reveals that at times during the conference harsh words were spoken; that at times appellant appeared nervous, excited and distraught and once she cried; at other times she was calm; and, at still others, became extremely angry, at one point branding a statement by the principal as "a lie."

At the hearing before the Commissioner appellant testified that, although nervous while at the conference, she "was well aware of what was going on"; that immediately after the termination of the conference, she took charge of a study hall but felt "dazed"; that she was "shocked" by what had occurred and felt "discouraged" that she "couldn't convince" those at the conference "that there had been nothing wrong." At the conclusion of the study hour she sought a conference with the principal but found that he had left the building. She stated that she was crying bitterly at this point, and called her doctor and, on his advice, started for home. However, instead of going there, she stopped at the place of business of the school board's president and sought a conference with him. He refused to confer with her and, as related by her, voiced the opinion that at the morning conference, had he been her immediate superior, he would have suspended her "on the spot."

Appellant then went to the superintendent's office and conferred with him. She told him that she wanted to resign. She testified that despite the superintendent's twice-expressed

admonition that she "[t]hink it over until Monday" (March 16), she asked his secretary for paper and on receiving it wrote the aforesaid resignation in longhand and signed it. She admitted that in rejecting the superintendent's suggestion that she defer her decision she replied: "If I do, I'll change my mind." She testified that she was not threatened by the superintendent "in any way." She testified that her reason for her resignation was the "absence" of action in accomplishing things she wanted done. The conference then ended and, as the superintendent departed to go to another appointment, appellant left the resignation on a clerk's desk in his office.

Appellant's testimony at the hearing before the Commissioner was in sharp contrast with the statements contained in her petition of appeal to him and reiterated in her brief filed on her present appeal. In both of them she charged that duress, fraud and coercion were responsible for her act in penning the foregoing resignation. However, she testified that at the conference with the superintendent her mind was "clear" and that she knew what she was "doing"; that she was "calm," and that without assistance she "chose" her "own words" in phrasing her resignation. In explanation of her act she stated: "I was offering a resignation which could have been accepted or rejected, hoping that it would bring up a discussion before the Board of Education to find out why I would take such a serious step or even consider it * * *. I thought that any other request less than that would not seem serious enough for them [the board members] to discuss it. I was relying on the integrity of the Superintendent and the President of the Board to explain what had happened that day and why that letter was written."

Unknown to appellant, on March 10, 1959 a special meeting of the board of education had been called for 8:00 P.M. on March 13, 1959, pursuant to written notice sent by the board's secretary to each of its nine members. A copy of the notice and the clerk's certificate annexed thereto were received

in evidence before the Commissioner. They ...

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