The Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Passaic Vicinage, (DeLuccia, J.S.C.) recently interpreted a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) pertaining to discipline in the case of Whitaker v. Passaic County Sheriff’s Department, 33-3-139.  In this case the Plaintiff appealed her right to challenge minor disciplinary charges which were previously dismissed for alleged failure to exhaust administrative remedies under the CBA. 

Instead of proceeding with the grievance procedure as outlined under the CBA, Whittaker opted to challenge the minor discipline at a disciplinary hearing.  After the disciplinary hearing was decided, Whittaker next attempted to appeal the decision through the grievance procedure as outlined in the CBA.  Whittaker was denied the right to grieve the charges by her employer stating that she was precluded from doing so due to the fact that she had chosen to challenge the charges at a hearing and is thus not entitled to pursue the case by way of grievance. 

The Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, took the liberty to interpret the CBA and held that a reasonable interpretation of the agreement would permit an employee charged with a minor disciplinary infraction to proceed first to an administrative hearing to challenge the charges and then, if adverse action is taken by the employer, to demand arbitration of the dispute under the CBA. 

This is an interesting case in that it appears to give a Public Safety Officer "two bites at the apple" when challenging minor disciplinary charges.  Furthermore, we normally do not see Superior Court Judges stepping into disputes between public employers and employees especially when it comes to the interpretation of a CBA.  Interpretation of agreements is traditionally left to the Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) and the Appellate Division.  I think what we should take away from this case is that there is always more than one reasonable interpretation of a collective bargaining agreement, and Public Safety Officers should not be afraid or hesitate in certain circumstances to challenge their employers in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division.

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Photo of Frank M. Crivelli Frank M. Crivelli

Frank M. Crivelli’s practice revolves around the representation of over eighty-five (85) labor unions in various capacities, the majority of which bargain for law enforcement entities. He is proud to be called on a daily basis to provide counsel to over 12,000 state…

Frank M. Crivelli’s practice revolves around the representation of over eighty-five (85) labor unions in various capacities, the majority of which bargain for law enforcement entities. He is proud to be called on a daily basis to provide counsel to over 12,000 state, county and local law enforcement officers, firefighters and EMS workers.

Mr. Crivelli specializes his individual practice in collective negotiations.  Over the past twenty (20) years, Mr. Crivelli has negotiated well over one hundred (100) collective bargaining agreements for various state, county, municipal and private organizations and has resolved over thirty-five (35) labor agreements that have reached impasse through compulsory interest arbitration.  Mr. Crivelli routinely litigates matters in front of the New Jersey State Public Employment Relations Commission, the New Jersey Office of Administrative Law, third party neutrals for mediation, grievance and interest arbitration, the Superior Court of New Jersey and the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey.

Mr. Crivelli founded and created the New Jersey Public Safety Officers Law Blog (www.njpublicsafetyofficers.com) approximately fifteen (15) years ago where he and members of his firm routinely publish blog posts regarding legal issues related to the employment of New Jersey Public Safety Officers.  The blog now contains over six hundred (600) articles and is reviewed and relied upon by thousands of public employees.  Mr. Crivelli has also published books and manuals pertaining to New Jersey Public Employee Disability Pension Appeals and the New Jersey Worker’s Compensation System. Currently, he is drafting a publication on how to Prepare and Negotiate a Collective Bargaining Agreement.  He lectures annually at the New Jersey State PBA Collective Bargaining Seminar, the National Association of Police Organization’s Legal Seminar, the New Jersey Public Employment Relations Commission Seminar on Public Employment Labor Law, the United States Marine Corps’ Commander’s Media Training Symposium and to Union Executive Boards and General Membership bodies on various labor related topics.

Prior to entering private practice, Mr. Crivelli joined the United States Marine Corps where he served as a Judge Advocate with the Legal Services Support Section of the First Force Services Support Group in Camp Pendleton, California.  While serving in the Marine Corps, Mr. Crivelli defended and prosecuted hundreds of Special and General Court Martial cases and administrative separation matters.  In addition to his trial duties, Mr. Crivelli was also charged with the responsibility of training various Marine and Naval combat command elements on the interpretation and implementation of the rules of engagement for various military conflicts that were ongoing throughout the world at that time. After leaving active duty, Mr. Crivelli remained in the Marine Corps Reserves where he was promoted to the rank of Major before leaving the service.

For the past fifteen (15) years, Mr. Crivelli has been certified as a Civil Trial Attorney by the Supreme Court for the State of New Jersey, a certification which less than two percent (2%) of the attorneys in New Jersey have achieved.  He is a graduate of Washington College (B.A.), the City University of New York School of Law (J.D.), the United States Naval Justice School, and the Harvard Law School Program on Negotiation.