July 21, 2008
TATIANA CHARAPOVA, PETITIONER-APPELLANT,
BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE TOWNSHIP OF EDISON, MIDDLESEX COUNTY, RESPONDENT-RESPONDENT.
On appeal from the State Board of Education, EDU #6722-05S.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted May 13, 2008
Before Judges Coburn and Fuentes.
Petitioner Tatina Charapova, a non-tenured teacher in the Edison Township School District, appeals from the decision of the State Board of Education dismissing her petition alleging discrimination based on her age and national origin. The State Board found that the petition, filed on August 5, 2005, was untimely, because petitioner filed it more than ninety days after her school district notified her on April 19, 2005, that she would not be offered a teaching contract for the 2005-2006 academic year. N.J.S.A. 18A:27-10; N.J.A.C. 6A:3-1.3(i). We affirm.
Petitioner was among a group of 178 non-tenured employees*fn1 of the Edison Township School District who were sent notices on April 19, 2005, that they were not to be rehired for the upcoming school year. The school district sent these notices pursuant to a cost savings plan known as a reduction in force (RIF). According to petitioner, after she received the notice she discussed her situation with colleagues. Based on these discussions, and on her own personal negative experiences with her supervisors, petitioner formed the belief that the school district might have acted in bad faith by using the RIF as a subterfuge to mask its true discriminatory intent. She thus filed her petition on August 5, 2005, after she became aware that the school district was rehiring some of the employees who had received the RIF notice.
The matter was originally referred for preliminary adjudication to the Office of Administrative Law (OAL), where an administrative law judge (ALJ) found that the ninety-day filing period began to run when petitioner received the letter from the school district notifying her that she would not be offered an employment contract for the relevant school year. In so doing, the ALJ rejected petitioner's argument that the appeal period should begin to run on May 23, 2005, when the local school board resolved to rehire 86 of the 178 staffers to whom it had sent non-renewal notices in April 2005.
The State Acting Commissioner of Education rejected the ALJ's Initial Decision. The Acting Commissioner concluded that the earliest petitioner could have asserted her claims of discrimination was sometime during May 2005, when she became aware that similarly situated staff members were being recalled to employment. The Acting Commissioner thus found that petitioner had filed her claims timely, and referred the matter back to the OAL for further proceedings.
Acting on the school district's appeal, the State Board of Education reversed the decision of the Acting Commissioner. After reviewing the record, the State Board concluded that at the time she received the school district's notice of non-renewal in April 2005, petitioner had available to her all of the information necessary to assert her claim of discrimination.
Specifically, petitioner had alleged in her petition that the principal of her school: (1) discriminated against her because she was an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher; (2) was openly antagonistic to the goals and mission of the ESL program; (3) was hostile and discriminatory against petitioner because of her foreign accent, which denoted her national origin; and (4) engaged in conduct that evidenced age discrimination. The State Board found that all of this information was known to petitioner before she received the non-renewal notice in April 2005.
Relying on Kaprow v. Board of Education of Berkeley, 131 N.J. 572 (1993) and Burd v. New Jersey Telephone Co., 76 N.J. 284 (1978), and applying its own precedent in Eisenberg v. Board of Education of the Borough of Fort Lee, the State Board concluded that petitioner's claims were untimely. Based on these same facts, the State Board also did not find any grounds for relaxing the ninety-day filing period.
Our review of final actions taken by State administrative agencies is limited to determining whether there is sufficient competent evidence supporting the decision reached. State- Operated Sch. Dist. of Newark v. Gaines, 309 N.J. Super. 327, 331-32 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 156 N.J. 381 (1998). We do not conduct our own independent review of the evidence presented to the State agency. In re Taylor, 158 N.J. 644, 656 (1999) (quoting State v. Locurto, 157 N.J. 463, 471 (1991)). Thus, we are required to give great deference to the determinations of administrative agencies. In re Freshwater Wetlands Prot. Act Rules, 180 N.J. 478, 488-89 (2004).
Here, the record amply supports the State Board's findings. We thus affirm substantially for the reasons expressed by the State Board in its August 3, 2007 written decision.