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Retaliation alleged by New Jersey groundskeeper in school suit

A New Jersey school board is no stranger to lawsuits. Several cases, including an unresolved wrongful dismissal lawsuit, were filed against the board or board members recently. The latest case contends a school grounds manager was let go by the Deptford Township school officials because of the employee's political leanings.

The man also alleged the board retaliated against him for suspending an employee engaged to the school board president's sister. A board motion to dismiss the manager coincided with the day the employee was suspended. The plaintiff said the board president should not have taken part in the termination decision due to the personal conflict.

The employment lawsuit claims the grounds manager's work troubles began last year when three board members questioned the man's credentials. At issue was the need for an Educational Facilities Management certificate. When the board recently decided to find a new grounds manager, it listed the certificate as an employment requirement.

The plaintiff said the board decided to find a new manager during a meeting, without providing the groundskeeper with a "Rice notice." Under New Jersey statute 10:4-12, a public body is expected to deliver a Rice notification to workers or prospective employees who are subjects of closed discussions. The rule falls under exceptions to the Open Public Meeting Act.

The former groundskeeper also claimed he was denied a customary stipend for covering his assistant manager's job for several months. Despite the legal complaints and a request for compensatory and additional punitive damages, the plaintiff's goal is to be rehired. A reinstatement request is not unusual, although the motive is often to secure lost wages rather than to return to work for an unfriendly employer.

Employment laws are affected by state and federal government laws prohibiting discrimination and other illegal employer behaviors, with a myriad of exceptions. The best way to learn whether your legal claim is solid is to contact an attorney.

Source: South Jersey Times, "Deptford schools employee sues district over job posting" Andy Polhamus, Mar. 15, 2014

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