BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF OCEAN COUNTY COLLEGE, Plaintiff-Appellant,
FACULTY ASSOCIATION OF OCEAN COUNTY COLLEGE, Defendant-Respondent.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted May 14, 2013
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Ocean County, Docket No. L-1080-12.
Berry Sahradnik Kotzas & Benson, attorneys for appellant (John C. Sahradnik and Mathew B. Thompson, on the brief).
Detzky & Hunter, L.L.C., attorneys for respondent (Stephen B. Hunter, of counsel and on the brief).
Before Reisner and Hayden, Judges.
Plaintiff Board of Trustees of Ocean County College (College) appeals from a May 11, 2012 order denying its motion to vacate an arbitration award in favor of the Faculty Association of Ocean County College (Association). For the reasons that follow, we affirm.
For the purposes of this opinion, the facts can be summarized as follows. The College issued a letter of reprimand to a professor for allegedly ordering a book for one of his classes without obtaining approval from the department dean, and for allegedly giving evasive answers during the ensuing investigation. Specifically, the letter recited that "[d]uring the investigation of this violation, you maintained that you did what everyone else did." The Association filed a request for arbitration with the Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC). The College sent PERC a letter, contending that the matter was not arbitrable and that pursuant to N.J.S.A. 18A:3B-6(f), the College had exclusive jurisdiction to decide grievances involving employee discipline. However, the College did not ask PERC to stay the arbitration. In the alternative, the College argued that the Association skipped the third step of the grievance process set forth in Article VII of the collective negotiation agreement (CNA).
The arbitrator found that the College waived its objection to the Association's alleged failure to pursue step three of the grievance procedure, when it failed to provide a definitive response to the Association's request for a step three hearing. The arbitrator declined to consider the merits of the College's statutory argument, concluding that the issue was beyond his jurisdiction.
On the merits, the arbitrator found that there was no just cause for imposing discipline. He found that the dean had "effectively delegated" to her administrative assistant the responsibility of approving book orders. He found that the professor followed the established procedure for ordering the book, by submitting his request to the dean's administrative assistant, and that all of the other professors in the department followed that procedure. Although it was not specifically addressed in the arbitrator's decision, it is clear from his decision that when the professor told the College's representative that he just "did what everyone else did" in placing his book order, the professor was being truthful.
The College filed a complaint with the Law Division to vacate the arbitration award. In an oral opinion issued on May 11, 2012, Judge Rochelle Gizinski determined that the matter was appropriate for arbitration, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 34:13A-29, which specifically addressed arbitration of minor disciplinary matters. She reasoned that the more general statute concerning the governance of public colleges, N.J.S.A. 18A:3B-6, was not applicable to this situation. Finding that the ...