HomeCinnaminson NewsAttorney general: Township school leave policy violates law

Attorney general: Township school leave policy violates law

The Cinnaminson board of education policy that prohibits employees on leave from coaching or otherwise participating in extracurricular activities violates state law, according to Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin.

The policy disregards both the state Law Against Discrimination (LAD) and the New Jersey Family Leave Act (NJFLA), Platkin said. Three women employed by the school district filed separate complaints challenging the policy after they were precluded from coaching extracurricular sports while on parental leave.

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The attorney general issued Findings of Probable Cause that found sufficient evidence to conclude the district policy has a disparate impact based on gender and pregnancy, in violation of the LAD, according to a release from the attorney general.

Because pregnant female employees are more likely to take extended family leaves after giving birth, the Findings of Probable Cause found the Cinnaminson district’s policy means pregnant women are predictably more likely to be precluded from coaching extracurricular activities. 

During the course of its investigation, the attorney general’s office found that between 70 and 75% of the school district’s staff are female, and about 80% of the leaves taken by employees after childbirth were taken by women. Yet the district awarded 72% of its extracurricular positions to men, the attorney general noted.

In all three cases filed against the district policy, affected employees were women already on family leave following the births of their children. In one case, an employee who served as head coach for two years was not allowed to return to that role in the same sport because she was on leave during the season.

In another case, the district policy prevented a woman who had coached the same sport for more than a decade from returning to her coaching duties nine months after she gave birth. In the third case, an employee was forced to cut short her leave so she could return to a coaching position, even though the district had permitted her to coach while on several prior maternity leaves. 

“New Jersey’s anti-discrimination laws do not permit employers to follow the all-too-familiar view that a woman must choose between having a career and having a child,” Platkin explained. “These cases serve as a reminder that employment policies and practices cannot punish an employee for taking time off to bond with a new family member.

“We will always stand up to employers who violate our laws and will work to ensure that our residents’ rights are protected.”

Sundeep Iyer, director of the attorney general’s Division on Civil Rights, said the enforcement actions on March 26 demonstrate that “we are committed to enforcing these critical protections” against gender-based discrimination and pregnancy-based discrimination.

“That includes taking enforcement action against discriminatory family-leave policies that disproportionately harm women and pregnant people, even when those policies don’t single out women or pregnant people on their face,” he added.

In addition, national data and data from the school district demonstrate that women and pregnant people are much more likely to take extended leave to care for or bond with a new child than men, meaning that they are more likely to be precluded by the district’s policy from participating in extracurricular activities over the course of an entire season. 

The attorney general’s investigation also found sufficient evidence to conclude that the school district’s policy violates the NJFLA, which protects an employee’s right to engage in part-time work while on family leave and to continue part-time employment that began before the employee’s family leave.

The regulations implementing the NJFLA provide that an employee on family leave “may commence” part-time employment during a leave. The regulations also expressly provide that an employee “may continue part-time employment that commenced prior to the employee’s family leave.” 

Because the school district prohibited employees on family leave from continuing their part-time employment as coaches while on parental leave, the attorney general found the policy likely violated the NJFLA.    

Messages requesting comment were sent to the board of education and district.

Schools superintendent Stephen Cappello, in a statement, said the district was surprised by the Attorney General’s announcement.

“… We regret that this information was communicated to the public in such a misleading manner, which suggests that a definitive finding has been made,” Cappello said “In reality, over the last two years, as we have fully complied with electronic requests for information, we have never had an opportunity to communicate directly with the Division of Civil Rights about these cases.

“Salary equity and rich family leave policies are one of the many reasons that public education in New Jersey offers one of the most family friendly workplaces for working parents. We are proud to be part of that tradition.

“As a father of four, I know firsthand how important it is to create a positive culture where employees feel valued and respected. In partnership with the Cinnaminson Board of Education, and the labor organizations representing our employees, we remain committed to the well-being of all employees and take great pride in supporting them throughout their careers, and especially when they choose to start a family,” Cappello said.

The superintendent said in light of the announcement, the district will “conduct a review of our current practices, to ensure they are serving the needs of both our employees and our students.”

“We look forward to the forthcoming process and the opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to an equitable working environment for all our employees,” he said.

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