On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Passaic County, Docket No. DC-7392-06.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted January 14, 2008
Before Judges Lintner and Sabatino.
Following a trial, the Special Civil Part awarded plaintiff Jonathan Murphy a money judgment of $1018, representing unpaid vacation pay that Murphy had accrued with his former employer, defendant Wayne Dodge, Inc. ("the dealership"). At the same time, the judge denied Murphy's separate claim against the dealership for $968 in unpaid sales commissions.
The dealership now appeals the court's award of vacation pay, contending that Murphy forfeited his right to receive it because he did not follow the company's vacation policies and procedures. Murphy, who appeared pro se at trial, has not cross-appealed the denial of commissions. We affirm.
The record shows that the dealership hired Murphy as a salesman in January 2002. He worked there through November 2005. He was paid both a weekly salary and any commissions he earned on customer sales.
At the time Murphy joined the company, he was provided with a copy of the dealership's employee handbook. The twenty-five page handbook addressed a variety of topics, including such things as employee benefits, insurance coverage, family leave, safety protocols, performance evaluations, sick days, dress requirements and parking.
With respect to vacations, the handbook specified that "[a]ll full[-]time employees will be entitled to vacation after one full year of service," as determined by a seniority-based schedule. Employees with one to two years of service would be allotted one week of vacation annually; those with three to ten years would have two weeks; and those serving more than ten years would earn three weeks. Employees on vacation would be paid their usual compensation.
By November 2005, Murphy had been with the company for more than three years, and consequently he accrued two weeks of paid vacation for that calendar year. The parties agree that by the time the events in question occurred in November 2005, Murphy had already used up, and had been paid for, one of his two vacation weeks for the year. It is also undisputed that Murphy took a second week of vacation from November 18 through November 25, 2005.
According to his trial testimony, Murphy advised his superiors, Bob Caravano and Daniel Ludwig, two weeks beforehand that he planned on taking vacation the week of November 18, and that they orally approved his request. As Murphy recalled it, he had stated, "[G]uys, we're going on vacation, I need a break, [then] they registered it and said okay, coming in for a vacation next week . . . [.]" Murphy acknowledges that his superiors did not memorialize their approval in writing. However, the record also reflects that, before his departure Murphy did submit a weekly pay sheet dated November 14, which included a claim for $1,018 in vacation pay as well as five sales commissions.
Murphy further testified that when he returned to the dealership from vacation on November 25, he had a disagreement with management. He contended that his superiors thought he had been out "shopping for a job." The disagreement prompted him to resign. After working a half day, Murphy left the premises, and did not return. He was not paid for the week of vacation, nor the requested sales commissions. He was also not paid for the partial day that he allegedly worked on November 25, although he did not include that as an item of damages in this case.
The dealership was represented by counsel at trial. Its sole witness was Caravano, the general manager.*fn1 Caravano disputed Murphy's contention that he had obtained oral approval for his vacation prior to the week of November 18. Caravano did admit that Murphy reported back to work on November 25. He recalled that Murphy met with the dealership's owner, and decided to leave. As Caravano explained it, "it was clear to many [at the company] . . . that [Murphy] was out looking for another job, and that was the reason why he took that week off."
The dealership relied at trial, and again on this appeal, upon language in the handbook that instructs employees to obtain written permission from their superiors four weeks in advance before ...