Firm Partner Richard A. Friedman, Esq., with very substantial assistance from Associate Marissa A. McAleer, Esq., Associate Kaitlyn E. Dunphy, Esq., and Partner Flavio L. Komuves, Esq., successfully challenged the termination of tenured teacher Felicia Pugliese by the Newark School District in Pugliese v. State-Operated School District of the City of Newark (App. Div. Aug. 28, 2018). The case has a long and complicated procedural history, spanning several years and several forums. Suffice it to say that the tenure charges brought against Ms. Pugliese were based upon her alleged inefficiency for the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 school years.
During those years, Ms. Pugliese was assigned to teach departmentalized, middle-school social studies. However, she was not highly qualified as a departmentalized social studies teacher under the No Child Left Behind Act (which was in effect during those school years), and her certification did not permit her to teach departmentalized social studies. Despite those facts, the District assigned her to that position, which she was not legally permitted to hold, and then terminated her tenured employment due to her alleged inefficiency in that position.
The Appellate Division held that Ms. Pugliese could not be evaluated for inefficiency in the social studies position because she “was not certified, authorized, qualified or ‘highly qualified’ to teach middle school social studies, and had no content knowledge in social studies.” As a result, her “assignment to that position was contrary to the law”, and tenure charges could not be brought against her for alleged inefficiency in that position.
In addition, the Appellate Division agreed with Ms. Pugliese that because the law in effect at the time that the tenure charges were brought against her required that she be given a 90-day period of substantial assistance by the District to improve her performance prior to tenure charges being filed, and the District failed to provide such assistance, the tenure charges against Ms. Pugliese had to be dismissed.
The Zazzali Firm is pleased to advise that Ms. Pugliese has been returned to work effective September 4th, after enduring four (4) trips to the Appellate Division and waiting six (6) years for this decision. She will also be receiving back pay and benefits for those six (6) years during which the tenure charges were being challenged. The Firm is thrilled that it could achieve a successful outcome for Ms. Pugliese, and that it was able to right the wrong against her – namely, that she was charged with inefficiency in a position she never should have been assigned to in the first place, and that she was not given the full period of time under the law to improve her performance when the quality of her performance was challenged as inefficient, especially in an unlawful assignment.
If you have any questions about this case or how it may relate to your employment, the experienced attorneys at the Zazzali Firm stand ready to address any inquiries you may have.