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College of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey v. Morrison

Decided: May 3, 1976.

COLLEGE OF MEDICINE AND DENTISTRY OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
PEARLE G. MORRISON, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



Halpern, Crane and Michels. The opinion of the court was delivered by Michels, J.A.D.

Michels

[141 NJSuper Page 105] Defendant Dr. Pearle G. Morrison appeals from a decision of the Board of Trustees of plaintiff College of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (the College) terminating her as Director of Nursing at Martland

Hospital, the teaching hospital and a constituent unit of the College.

The College first employed Dr. Morrison in January 1971 as a consultant to the Director of Nursing at Martland Hospital. On June 1, 1971 she was appointed Director of Nursing and Assistant Professor of Public Health and Preventive Medicine at Martland Hospital. Dr. Morrison's qualifications are impressive. She holds a bachelor's degree from Hunter College, a master's degree in nursing education from New York University and a Doctorate of Education from New York University. Dr. Morrison also was an instructor at New York University for two years and has extensive hospital nursing experience. In addition, Dr. Morrison served in the United States Public Health Service in Liberia, West Africa, during the Korean War, and prior to coming to Martland was Director of Nursing at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn for 4 1/2 years.

In April 1972 the Board of Concerned Citizens, a group organized by the Urban League of Essex County and sponsored by the Board of Trustees of the College for the purpose of trying to address some of the problems that were confronting the community with respect to both the College and Martland Hospital, complained to Mr. Herbert M. Groce, Jr., Vice-President for Human Resources of the College and Acting Administrator of Martland, about Dr. Morrison. The group was comprised of representatives of black, white and Spanish-speaking community-based organizations and complained generally of Dr. Morrison's lack of sensitivity and job performance with respect to the community's needs. As a result of these complaints Groce on April 24, 1972 sought Dr. Morrison's resignation, and when she refused to resign he terminated her as Director of Nursing on July 5, 1972 retroactive to April 24, 1972.

Dr. Morrison instituted an action in the Chancery Division of the Superior Court seeking to be reinstated as Director of Nursing. The Chancery Division issued an order to Groce and the Board of Trustees to show cause why an interlocutory

injunction should not issue restraining them from taking any action to carry out the termination, and why Dr. Morrison should not be continued as Director of Nursing. Prior to hearing the action was dismissed by stipulation of the parties on the condition that Groce and the Board of Trustees provide Dr. Morrison with a notice of the charges against her and an opportunity to be heard with respect to her termination as Director of Nursing. Thereupon Dr. Stanley S. Bergen, Jr., president of the College, appointed a special assistant to the Chancellor of the Department of Higher Education as a hearing officer to hear the matter and to make recommendations concerning the disposition thereof. The issue of whether Dr. Morrison was protected by the Veterans' Tenure Act, N.J.S.A. 38:16-1 et seq. , and could not be discharged except for good cause shown after a fair and impartial hearing, was reserved by the College and was not to be decided by the hearing officer.

Following a lengthy hearing the hearing officer found that the evidence was insufficient to support a finding that Dr. Morrison was terminated as Director of Nursing for good cause. The hearing officer specifically found that the nine charges directed against Dr. Morrison were not sustained by the evidence and recommended that if the College conceded that Dr. Morrison held tenure rights under the Veterans' Tenure Act she be offered reinstatement to her position as Director of Nursing and be accorded appropriate back pay to make her whole for any monetary loss she sustained. The hearing officer expressly left open for further determination the issue as to whether Dr. Morrison was protected by the Veterans' Tenure Act.

Thereafter Dr. Bergen reviewed the record and the hearing officer's recommendations and on February 25, 1975 recommended to the Board of Trustees that the Veterans' Tenure Act did not apply, that the hearing officer's report be reversed and that the termination of Dr. Morrison be upheld. On March 13, 1975 the Board of Trustees accepted Dr. Bergen's recommendation and terminated Dr. Morrison as Director

of Nursing at Martland Hospital. Dr. Morrison appeals.

Dr. Morrison contends that the Veterans' Tenure Act, N.J.S.A. 38:16-1, applied to her position as the Director of Nursing at Martland Hospital and therefore she could only be terminated for good cause, and that the Board of Trustees' finding in that regard was clearly contrary to the weight of the credible evidence. There is no doubt that Dr. Morrison qualified as a veteran within the meaning of N.J.S.A. 38:16-1 by reason of her tour of duty with the United States Public Health Service during the ...


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