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Halpern v. Marion P. Thomas Charter School

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

August 30, 2013

ROBIN HALPERN, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
MARION P. THOMAS CHARTER SCHOOL, Defendant-Respondent.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued February 25, 2013

On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, Docket No. L-0864-11.

Gail Oxfeld Kanef argued the cause for appellant (Oxfeld Cohen, P.C., attorneys; Ms. Oxfeld Kanef, of counsel and on the briefs; William P. Hannan, on the briefs).

Derlys Maria Gutierrez argued the cause for respondent (Adams Stern Gutierrez & Lattiboudere, LLC, attorneys; Ms. Gutierrez, of counsel and on the brief; Daniel Schlein, on the brief).

Before Judges Fasciale and Maven.

PER CURIAM

Plaintiff Robin Halpern appeals from a May 25, 2012 Law Division order granting defendant's motion for summary judgment, denying her cross-motion for summary judgment, and dismissing her complaint for breach of contract with prejudice. We reverse and remand for further proceedings.

The relevant facts adduced from the hearing transcript follow. Halpern was employed by defendant Marion P. Thomas Charter School (MPTCS or Charter School) in Newark, New Jersey, during the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 school years as Director of Special Services and Director of Special Education and Counseling, respectively. During those two school years, Halpern served under the terms of two annual employment agreements drafted by the Charter School and signed by both, Halpern and a Charter School representative. On April 15, 2010, Halpern entered into an employment agreement with MPTCS for the 2010-2011 school year as the Coordinator of Special Services. The employment agreement specified that Halpern would be employed as a ten-month employee for that academic school year.

On or about August 16, 2010, Halpern received notice from the Charter School that the school "could no longer afford" her; her services would no longer be needed; and she was not to report for work at the beginning of the school year. The Charter School advised that Halpern that she would not be employed for the 2010-2011 school year due to budgetary reasons.

Halpern subsequently filed a single count complaint on January 31, 2011, in which she alleged that MPTCS breached the parties' employment agreement by failing to employ her and pay her a salary for the 2010-2011 school year.

On February 17, 2012, MPTCS filed a motion for summary judgment seeking to dismiss the complaint with prejudice. Halpern filed a cross-motion for summary judgment on April 3, 2012.

In May 2012, at oral argument on the motion for summary judgment, the central issue was whether Halpern was an at-will employee. First, Halpern contended that the presumption of at-will employment was overcome by her employment contract, which specified a definitive duration of employment and did not contain a termination provision for the Charter School. Additionally, she maintained that the provisions in the employee handbook regarding a sixty-day probationary period during which employees can be terminated at-will did not apply to her. She surmised that the handbook did not establish she was an at-will employee.

The Charter School countered that case law supports a finding that Halpern was an at-will employee, and further as a public employee, the Charter School had the right ...


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