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Mt. Holly Township Board of Education v. Mt. Holly Township Education Association

April 21, 2008

MT. HOLLY TOWNSHIP BOARD OF EDUCATION, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
MT. HOLLY TOWNSHIP EDUCATION ASSOCIATION AND JUAN GONZALEZ, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.



On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Burlington County, Docket No. C-66-06.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued April 1, 2008

Before Judges Skillman, Winkelstein and LeWinn.

Defendant Juan Gonzalez was employed by plaintiff Mt. Holly Township Board of Education (Board) as a custodian. Gonzalez was not tenured in this position.

Gonzalez had an individual employment contract covering the period from July 1, 2005 through June 30, 2006 under which the Board could terminate him at any time by giving fourteen days notice. The pertinent part of the employment contract stated:

It is hereby agreed by the parties hereto that this contract may at any time be terminated by either party giving to the other fourteen day's notice in writing of intention to terminate the same . . . .

Gonzalez's employment relationship with the Board was also governed by a collectively negotiated agreement entered into between his union, defendant Mt. Holly Township Education Association (Association), and the Board. That agreement contained a provision prohibiting the discharge of any employee "without just cause" and subjecting any such employment action to the grievance procedures of the contract:

No employee shall be discharged, disciplined, reprimanded, reduced in rank or compensation, or deprived of any professional advantage or given an adverse evaluation of his/her professional services without just cause. Any such action asserted by the Board or any agent or representative thereof, shall be subject to the grievance procedure herein set forth.

Those grievance procedures culminate in arbitration at the final stage of the process.

On January 20, 2006, the Board terminated Gonzalez, giving him the fourteen days notice required under his individual employment contract. The pertinent part of the Board's letter to Gonzalez notifying him of this employment action stated:

As per the discipline hearing held this afternoon, your position as custodian/ maintenance for the Mt. Holly Township Public Schools is terminated effective February 3, 2006 in accordance with your employment contract.

The Association filed a grievance challenging Gonzalez's termination under the just cause provision of the collectively negotiated agreement, which the Board rejected. The Association then filed a request for arbitration with the American Arbitration Association. The Board responded by filing this action to restrain the arbitration, claiming that the matter was not arbitrable because Gonzalez had been terminated pursuant to the fourteen-day notice provision of his individual employment contract.

The case was brought before the trial court by order to show cause. After briefing and oral argument, the court concluded that Gonzalez had been properly terminated in accordance with the fourteen-day notice provision of his individual ...


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