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Essex Crane Rental Corp. v. Director

October 3, 1996


On appeal from the Division on Civil Rights, Department of Law & Public Safety.

Approved for Publication October 7, 1996.

Before Judges Dreier, D'Annunzio and Wefing. The opinion of the court was delivered by D'annunzio, J.A.D.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: D'annunzio

The opinion of the court was delivered by


This is a case of first impression under New Jersey's Family Leave Act (Act). N.J.S.A. 34:11B-1 to -16. At issue is the breadth of the Act's definition of "employer." This appeal arises out of a complaint filed with the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights (Division) by Pamela Lombardelli, alleging that Essex Crane Rental Corp. (Essex) violated the Act. Essex appeals from the Division's determination of probable cause which, in part, specifically rejected Essex's contention that the Act does not apply to it because Essex has "under a dozen employees in New Jersey," though it employs "a total of approximately 164 persons in six states." The Division referred the matter to the Office of Administrative Law for a hearing as a contested case. Thus, the Division's determination, made in the context of Lombardelli's complaint, that the Act applies to Essex is interlocutory. Because the issue is of substantial public interest, we now grant leave nunc pro tunc to appeal the Division's construction of the Act's definition of "employer."

The Act requires employers, as defined in the Act, to grant leave to employees under certain circumstances such as the birth of a child or illness of a member of an employee's family. N.J.S.A. 34:11B-3i(1) and (3). The Act defines "employer" as "a person or corporation, partnership, individual proprietorship,joint venture, firm or company or other similar legal entity which . . . employs 50 or more employees . . . ." N.J.S.A. 34:11B-3f(3). The Act does not state that all the required minimum number of employees be located in New Jersey.

N.J.S.A. 34:11B-16 authorizes the Division to "promulgate rules and regulations . . . deemed necessary for the implementation and enforcement of this act." Pursuant to this authority, the Division promulgated a regulation defining an "employer" as "an employer as defined in the Act which employs 50 or more employees, whether employed in New Jersey or not. . . ." N.J.A.C. 13:14-1.2. (Emphasis added.)

The Act's benefits, of course, apply only to an employer's New Jersey employees. N.J.S.A. 34:11B-4. Thus, to be subject to the Act, an employer must have at least one New Jersey employee. Essex contends that the Legislature intended to apply the Act only to entities with 50 or more New Jersey employees and, therefore, the Division's definition of employer violates the Act.

In construing a statute we must effectuate the Legislature's intent. Monmouth County v. Wissell, 68 N.J. 35, 43-44, 342 A.2d 199 (1975). Sources of legislative intent are the language of a statute, the policy behind a statute, concepts of reasonableness, and legislative history. Coletti v. Union Co. Bd. of Chosen Freeholders, 217 N.J. Super. 31, 35, 524 A.2d 1270 (App. Div. 1987); Shapiro v. Essex County Bd. of Chosen Freeholders, 177 N.J. Super. 87, 92, 424 A.2d 1203 (Law Div. 1980), aff'd, 183 N.J. Super. 24, 443 A.2d 219 (App. Div. 1982), aff'd, 91 N.J. 430, 453 A.2d 158 (1982).

"We must first look at the evident wording of the statute to ascertain its plain meaning and intent." Renz v. Penn Central Corp., 87 N.J. 437, 440, 435 A.2d 540 (1981). Our duty is to apply the legislative intent as expressed in the statute's language, and we are not to presume that the Legislature intended something other than what it expressed by its plain language. In Re Jamesburg High Sch. Closing, 83 N.J. 540, 548, 416 A.2d 896 (1980); In re Howell Tp., Monmouth County, 254 N.J. Super. 411, 419 (App. Div. 1991). The Act by its terms applies to employers with 50 or more employees. This definition contains no limiting language based on the employees' location. Essex, therefore, is asking this court to supply limiting language which the Legislature did not use. We perceive no compelling reason in the language of the Act, its legislative history or its policy objectives to add limiting language.

The broad definition of "employer" is consistent with the Act's policy and purpose. In Cedar Cove, Inc. v. Stanzione, 122 N.J. 202, 213, 584 A.2d 784 (1991) the Court observed that "the construction that will best effectuate the statute's ultimate objectives is to be preferred." The Legislature expressed the purpose and policy behind the Act in its findings and declarations:

The Legislature finds and declares that the number of families in the State in which both parents or a single parent is employed outside of the home has increased dramatically and continues to increase and that due to lack of employment policies to accommodate working parents, many individuals are forced to choose between job security and parenting or providing care for ill family members. The Legislature further finds that it is necessary to promote the economic security of families by guaranteeing jobs to wage earners who choose to take a period of leave upon the birth or placement for adoption of a child or serious health condition of a family member. The Legislature, therefore, declares that it is the policy of the State to protect and promote the stability and economic security of family units. The Legislature further declares that employees should be entitled to take a ...

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