Appellate Division Broadens Rice Notice Requirements
Feb 22, 2017 | Written by: Share|
The Appellate Division recently broadened the circumstances under which a Rice Notice is required to be given to an employee.
New Jersey requires public entities to provide employees with notice of a meeting at which their employment status may be discussed and adversely affected. N.J.S.A. 10:4-12b(8); Rice v. Union Cty. Reg'l High Sch. Bd. of Educ., 155 N.J. Super. 64, 73 (App. Div. 1977). Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 10:4-12b(8), an employee is given the opportunity to request that such discussion occur in public session.
The Appellate Division broadened this category of notice in the decision Kean Federation of Teachers v. Kean University, Docket No. A-5481-14T3 (Feb. 8, 2017). One of the plaintiffs in the case, an associate professor of nursing at Kean University, alleged that her position was discussed and terminated at a public meeting of the University’s Board of Trustees (the “Board”) without giving her proper notice.
The employee’s appointment was scheduled to expire at the end of the academic year. In conformance with the Board’s past practice, the University President sent a letter to the employee prior to the end of the academic year informing her that she was not being recommended for reappointment. The letter was also forwarded to a subcommittee that makes recommendations to the Board on reappointments. Accordingly, the subcommittee recommended that the plaintiff employee (and others) not be reappointed. Thereafter, the Board, in open session and without discussion, adopted the subcommittee’s recommendations and decided not to reappoint the plaintiff employee to her position. The Court held that the Board did not violate the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) by not issuing a Rice Notice to the affected employee because there was no discussion of the employee’s status during closed session and there was no stated intention to discuss the position.
At first glance, the Court’s opinion in this case appears to be limited to a single employee, but that is not the case. The Court viewed the matter as broader than just one employee not being reappointed to her position. The employee at issue was not specifically discussed at the Board meeting; rather, a recommendation on whether to reappoint or not reappoint an entire group of employees was implemented. Therefore, the Court’s holding is broad. The Court’s holding, in essence, states that the category of employees (i.e., all untenured professors) affected by the subcommittee’s recommendations for reappointment were required to receive Rice Notices. The Court stated:
We now hold that a public body is required to send out a Rice notice any time it has placed on its agenda any matters "involving the employment, appointment, termination of employment, terms and conditions of employment, evaluation of the performance of, promotion, or disciplining of any specific prospective public officer or employee or current public officer or employee employed or appointed by the public body[.] N.J.S.A. 10:4-12b(8)”.
Therefore, this decision could have far-reaching impacts. Many discussions of public bodies indirectly affect the employment terms of groups of employees. Salaries of all employees are discussed at budget meetings and meetings at which salary ordinances are adopted. Terms of employment of union members are determined at meetings wherein union contract negotiations are discussed. Public entities will have to reconsider under what circumstances they send out Rice Notices to employees.
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