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Stack v. Boonton Board of Education

Decided: February 20, 1985.


On appeal from New Jersey Department of labor, Division of Workers' Compensation.

Fritz, Gaulkin and Long. The opinion of the court was delivered by Fritz, P.J.A.D.


[199 NJSuper Page 122] In this workers' compensation matter the sole issue concerns the computation of wages for compensation purposes in a case in which the petitioner holds three jobs for the same employer. The judge of compensation concluded that the three jobs were independent of each other, selected one and based the compensation rate on the salary paid for that one on the theory that it was "during his employment" on that job that he was injured. We reverse.

On April 19, 1980, the day of the accident in question, John Stack was employed by the Boonton Board of Education (Board) in three capacities: a mathematics teacher, the head football coach and head golf coach. This employment came about a year prior to that date when Stack, then teaching and coaching at Ridgefield Memorial High School, responded to a newspaper advertisement placed by the Board. Stack sought the job because he had "recently moved into the Morris County area" and he was seeking employment "closer to home." The advertisement sought a head football coach. The testimony of Stack and that of the principal of Boonton High School differ respecting the availability of teaching positions at the time of the advertisement, but it is uncontested and uncontestable that there was a vacancy in the teaching ranks at the time of the hiring and that Stack was hired "as a teacher at Boonton High School and as head football coach." It is also factual, as demonstrated by the testimony of the principal, that in order to be considered for the coaching job "you had to have [teacher] certification." At the time of the accident, Stack's several duties with the Board were covered by three contracts, each describing the amount of money allocated for the three jobs.

On the day of the accident, Stack commenced his employment at 6:30 in the morning at a universal gym weight lifting program at the school open to all students. He was in charge of this program. The participation was not just by athletes but also by "kids in that also who were not involved in sports but just wanted to be in a weight lifting program." According to his uncontradicted testimony, he then supervised his homeroom and taught his classes in mathematics, meeting just before lunch with a few of his football players who were having some scholastic difficulties. After his teaching assignments were through, he met with a college football coach respecting whether he "had any football players that . . . met all his academic and football standards." Following the school day he devoted a half hour to "extra help for the math kids" and then he

changed into his golf clothes and went to the Knoll Golf Club where he coached an interscholastic golf match, driving there in his automobile and taking two of the players with him. He returned to the school, changed into a suit, picked up the principal and the two of them went together to the Morris County Football Coaches' Association Banquet. Stack testified that while at the banquet in addition to conversation concerning football, he and the principal talked about both the mathematics classes and the golf team. The principal denied any recollection of the subjects discussed. The two sat together at the dinner.

Stack and the principal went home separately. On the way home Stack was involved in an automobile accident which left him a totally and permanently disabled paraplegic.

As noted above, the sole issue is whether the wages for the employment should be aggregated for determination of the compensation rate, or whether that rate should be determined only on the salary paid for coaching football, as the judge of compensation determined. The Board argues that the jobs are separate and distinct. Petitioner insists that they are a single employment, but even if they are not, they represent joint and concurrent employment.

We can conceive of no reason why the simple expedient of three separate contracts, allocating the salary which the Board was paying Stack for the work he did for them into proportionate amounts, should cause employment by the same employer of the same person to be considered three separate employments. This is especially so where the qualification for one of the jobs was conditioned upon qualification for another: Stack needed teacher certification before he would be considered for the football coaching position.

Beyond this, the nature of the various tasks confounds line drawing. When Stack supervised the weight lifting activity in the morning, was he employed as a football coach, a golf coach or a mathematics teacher? Did his efforts to assist football players having scholastic troubles with their schoolwork convert Stack from a football coach to a scholastic counselor or a

math teacher if one of the difficulties the student was having was with mathematics? If Stack were to be believed -- the judge of compensation made no finding in this respect -- when he testified that at the dinner the night of the accident, he talked with the principal about "my math program -- how it was coming along," does it not follow ...

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