New Jersey Law

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N.J. Supreme Court Affirms Indictment of Woman Who Took Confidential Student Records in an Alleged Employment Discrimination Action

In a recent decision, New Jersey v. Saavedra, the New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed an indictment of Defendant for official misconduct and unlawful taking of public documents from the North Bergen Board of Education (“the Board’). By way of background, Defendant was employed by the Board as a clerk for over ten years. In 2009, Defendant, along with her son (also a Board employee), filed an action against the Board and three individual defendants alleging violations of the law and public policy including pay irregularities, improper administration of employee vacation and family leave, violations of unspecified child study regulations and unsafe conditions at a Board facility.

Defendant’s counsel in that matter provided copies of confidential documents to the Board’s counsel in response to their request for all documents in Defendant’s possession. These documents consisted of three hundred and sixty-seven confidential student records, sixty-nine of which were not copies but original files. The Board’s attorney then notified the county prosecutor’s office that Defendant had taken confidential documents belonging to the Board for use in her civil case. Following this, the county prosecutor decided to pursue criminal charges against Defendant.

In April 2012, the grand jury returned a two-count indictment, charging Defendant with second-degree official misconduct, N.J.S.A. 2C:30-2(a), and third-degree theft by unlawful taking of public documents, N.J.S.A. 2C:20-3(a) and N.J.S.A. 2C20-2(b)(2)(g). Sometime after this indictment, Defendant voluntarily dismissed her employment discrimination action. Defendant moved to dismiss the indictment, but the trial court denied the motion, and the Appellate Division panel affirmed the trial court’s denial.

In June of 2015, the New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Appellate Division. The Court concluded that “the State presented to the grand jury a prima facie showing with respect to the elements of each offense charged in the indictment and that the State did not withhold from the grand jury exculpatory information or a charge regarding a defense that it was compelled by law to present.” In furtherance of its holding, the Court held that, “Defendant’s indictment does not violate due process standards or New Jersey public policy by conflicting with this Court’s decision in Quinlan.”

The Quinlan case concerns the legal standard that governs certain retaliation claims under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD), N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 to 4-2. Specifically, that case involved an employee’s claim that her employment was terminated after she took documents belonging to her employer for use in her employment discrimination litigation. The court distinguished the facts of this case from that of Quinlan by stating that the case “does not govern the application of the criminal laws at issue in this appeal.” The Court did state that Defendant may assert a justification defense in that her intent for the documents was to use them in support of her employment discrimination claim, if the evidence at trial supports such an assertion.

For additional information about the matters in this bulletin or in the firm’s Employment Practice, please contact Richard P. Flaum, Esq.

CATEGORIES: Employment Law

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