On appeal from the decision of the Board of Trustees of the Teachers' Pension and Annuity Fund.
Bischoff, J. H. Coleman and Gaulkin. The opinion of the court was delivered by Bischoff, P.J.A.D.
A section of the Teachers' Pension and Annuity Fund Law, N.J.S.A. 18A:66-1 et seq., permits purchase of pension credit for time during which a teacher was absent on an official leave without pay if "such absence was for a period of (1) less than three months or (2) up to a maximum of two years if the leave was due to the member's personal illness or maternity. . . ." N.J.S.A. 18A:66-8. The chief issues presented by this appeal are (1) whether "maternity leave" as used in the statute encompasses a leave for child care after the pregnancy-related disability has passed, and (2) if so, whether fathers as well as mothers can qualify for such a child care leave. The Teachers' Pension and Annuity Fund Board (TPAF) answered the first question in the negative and did not reach the second one. We affirm.
The facts are not disputed. Petitioner, a teacher employed by the Englewood Public Schools, was granted a child care leave of absence from October 9, 1978 until September 1, 1979. Petitioner's son had been born in February 1977, after which petitioner's wife cared for the child at home. Petitioner had requested the leave because his wife was going to return to work and petitioner was going to assume child care and household duties.
In July 1979 petitioner communicated with the Division of Pensions and stated he wished to purchase pension credits for the time he was not working. His request was rejected for the reason that "[t]here is no provision in the statute to purchase a leave of absence for child care reasons." He appealed to the
TPAF Board of Trustees which upheld the denial of his application. Petitioner was granted a formal hearing and the administrative law judge ruled in petitioner's favor, concluding that "maternity" should be broadly construed to include child care by both female and male members of the pension fund. The Board of Trustees rejected the recommendation of the administrative law judge, stating:
On this appeal petitioner contends the Board erred in excluding child care leaves from the category of "maternity leaves" for which pension credits may be purchased under N.J.S.A. 18A:66-8, and commences his argument by reminding us that since N.J.S.A. 18A:66-8 is a pension statute it is to be liberally construed, citing, among other cases, Geller v. Treasury Dep't of New Jersey, 53 N.J. 591 (1969); Zigmont v. Teachers' Pension, etc., Fund Trustees, 182 N.J. Super. 50 (App.Div.1981), rev'd 91 N.J. 580 (1983); Lyons v. State, 153 N.J. Super. 396 (App.Div.1977). However, the desirability of a "liberal construction" in favor of intended pension beneficiaries should not obscure or override considerations of (1) a potential adverse impact on the financial integrity of the Fund, Zigmont, supra, 182 N.J. Super. at 54; see, also Fair Lawn Ed. Ass'n v. Fair Lawn Bd. of Ed., 79 N.J. 574, 582-583 (1979), and (2) the requirement that "in the absence of an explicit indication of a special meaning, words will be given their ordinary and well understood meaning." Service Armament Co. v. Hyland, 70 N.J. 550, 556 (1976); Fahey v. Jersey City, 52 N.J. 103, 107 (1968).
In essence, petitioner's contention is that the term maternity should be given a broad meaning to include "child care". He argues such a meaning was ascribed to the word maternity in Farley v. Ocean Tp. Bd. of Ed., 174 N.J. Super. 449 (App.Div.1980), certif. den. 85 N.J. 140 (1980), and found acceptance in a
1976 unpublished opinion of the Board, In re Fralinger, where a female teacher was permitted to purchase two years of pension credit after a child care leave following an adoption.
The word "maternity" is a common and well used word in the general vocabulary. It is defined in Webster's Third ...