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New Jersey woman wins job back in wrongful discharge settlement

Courts can order employers to hire workers back who have been discriminated against or wrongfully dismissed. Judges sometimes decide this is not for the best. A job may no longer be available for the worker, or the relationship between a Bergen County employer and employee could be too strained to consider reuniting them.

A New Jersey high school custodian recently was rehired after she brought a wrongful termination lawsuit against the High Point Regional Board of Education. A judge didn’t make the decision; the board did as part of a $50,000 settlement. Most members of the board had been replaced since June 2012 when the custodian was let go.

The legal claim alleged the firing was retaliatory, because the custodian reported unsettling information about then-school superintendent. The woman said she noticed the superintendent frequently used the boys’ locker room rather than a staff bathroom. The official offered no explanation when questioned about it, but his demeanor toward the employee became “cold.”

The custodian was informed of her firing as the board was investigating other reports. Police complaints were filed after the superintendent apparently approached young males while nude in public locker rooms. No criminal activity was found.

In April, the board agreed to settle the custodian’s case, rather than face charges that the employee’s whistleblower rights were violated. Settlements also allow defendants to avoid blame. Part of the agreement was reinstatement to the woman’s former position at the high school, which she resumed later in the month.

Some good reasons exist to return to an old job after a legal dispute, including the feeling that no other work could be better. Some workers want to hit a certain employment milestone like achieving a tenured position or vesting rights to pension benefits. A judge may be more likely to award back pay to a plaintiff who requests reinstatement than someone unwilling to go back to a job.

Source: New Jersey Herald, “High Point settles wrongful termination lawsuit” Eric Obernauer, Apr. 28, 2014

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