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Open Government Advocacy Project:
$530K judgment in favor of Elizabeth superintendent upheld

Issue Detail:

On May 25, 2010, the Appellate Division affirmed an April 20, 2009 ruling by a Union County Judge in favor of former Elizabeth School Superintendent Thomas G. Dunn, Jr. The Appellate Division's decision is on-line here. According to the decision, the Elizabeth Board of Education entered into a five-year contract with Dunn ending in June 2006. In May 2005, the Board notified Dunn that it would not renew his contract. Dunn and the Board entered into an agreement on May 16, 2005 where Dunn would go on administrative leave during the last year of this contact, then serve as Assistant Superintendent through June 30, 2008 at a salary of $180,000 per year and then retire. Also in the contract was the Board's agreement to pay Dunn for his unused sick and vacation days. The Board and Dunn both agreed that Dunn had accumulated 377.5 sick days and 200.03 vacation days. On August 31, 2006, Dunn resigned, alleging that the Board had created a hostile work environment. He then requested payment for his unused sick and vacation days. A dispute arose, however, regarding the way in which payment his sick and vacation days should be calculated. Dunn's original contract, signed in 2000, set the maximum number of reimbursable vacation days at forty-four and paid unused sick days at $10 per day for up to half the days unused. Yet, the May 16, 2005 agreement said that Dunn would receive reimbursement for his unused days "at his last Superintendent of School per diem rate," which came to $833.05 per day. An April 20, 2009, the trial judge found in Dunn's favor and awarded him $529,700.03, consisting of $481,336.29 for each of his 557.80 unused sick and vacation days at $833.05 per day, plus $47,181.40 in interest and $1,182.34 in court costs. The School Board appealed and the Appellate judges found that the Board's arguments "are without sufficient merit to warrant a discussion in a written opinion." The judges also found that Dunn testified during the proceeding credibly while the trial judge held that the testimony of Bob Murray, who served as the Board's labor attorney and testified during the trial, "was replete with memory lapses." Also, it is worth noting that according to June 13, 2008 article in the Star Ledger, Dunn at that time served as a lobbyist for the New Jersey Association of School Administrators. Also of interest is a quote by Union County Freeholder Chairman Dan Sullivan, in an August 30, 2000 Star Ledger article, that "Dunn got the [superintendent's] job because of political favoritism and his father - Thomas Dunn Sr. - who was Elizabeth's mayor for three decades."




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