On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Burlington County, Docket No. C-54-06.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Skillman, Winkelstein and LeWinn.
Defendant James Baptiste was employed by plaintiff Medford Township Board of Education (Board) as a custodian. Baptiste was not tenured in this position.
Baptiste 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, in writing, fourteen (14) days notice of intent to terminate this contract.
Baptiste's employment relationship with the Board was also governed by a collectively negotiated agreement entered into between his union, defendant Medford 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, which provided in pertinent part:
No employee recognized by this agreement shall be reprimanded, disciplined, reduced in rank or compensation, or deprived of any professional advantage without just cause. . . . Any such action asserted by the Board, or any agency or representative thereof, shall be subject to the grievance procedure[.]
The grievance procedure article of the agreement stated in pertinent part:
A grievance shall mean a claim by a grievant that a loss or injury has been incurred as a result of the misinterpretation or misapplication of the terms of this Agreement, and shall be subject to binding arbitration.
On February 6, 2006, the Board terminated Baptiste, effective immediately. The letter informing Baptiste of this personnel action enclosed a paycheck for what the Board described as "Two Week Notice -- Severance Pay[.]"
The Association filed a grievance challenging Baptiste'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 Public Employment Relations Commission. The Board responded by filing this action to restrain the arbitration, claiming that the matter was not arbitrable because Baptiste 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 Baptiste had been properly terminated in accordance with the fourteen-day notice provision of his individual ...