Articles Posted in Employment Contracts

The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of age. Among other things, it prohibits employers from firing, refusing to hire or requiring an employee to retire because of their age.

However, the LAD expressly does not prohibit employers from refusing to hire or promote a person over 70 years old. As a result, someone who is not hired or promoted because they are over seventy years old does not have an age discrimination claim under the LAD.

On April 23, 2009, in Nini v. Mercer County Community College, the New Jersey Appellate Division ruled that this over-seventy exception does not apply to a company’s failure to renew an employment contract. In other words, a company violates the LAD if it decides not to renew an employment contract of an individual who is over 70 years old based on the employee’s age.

In the United States, the vast majority of employees are employees at-will, meaning they can be fired for almost any reason, as long as the decision is not the result of unlawful discrimination, retaliation, a breach of an employment contract, or some other form of wrongful discharge. However, certain employees of public schools eventually gain much greater protection — the protection of tenure laws.

When most people think about tenure laws, they think of school teachers. In many states, including both New York and New Jersey, teachers attain tenure after they teach in the public school system for more than three years.

But at least under New Jersey law, in addition to teachers, secretarial and clerical employees working for public schools are eligible to attain tenure. The applicable tenure statute states that “[a]ny person holding any secretarial or clerical position or employment under a board of education of any school district” shall attain tenure after “a period of employment of three consecutive calendar years.”

Imagine a company’s Vice President offered you a great new job. Better yet, he or she offered you a guaranteed written one year employment contract that provides a generous salary and benefits. You signed the contract and started the job, only to be told by someone in the human resources department that the Vice President who hired you did not have the authority to offer you an employment contract, the company has hired someone else for your job, and you are fired. Do you have a legal claim for the company breaching your employment contract?

The answer is not so simple. Generally, the law only holds a company responsible for contracts which are made by someone who actually has the authority to enter into that type of contract on the company’s behalf. For example, if an employee has the authority to hire employees, then the company ordinarily must honor the employment contacts he or she enters into on the company’s behalf. However, if an employee tries to enter into an agreement on behalf of the company without having the authority to do, then the company is generally not bound by that agreement.

But what about when an employee who does not actually have the authority to hire, but reasonably appears to have that authority? The law in many states, including New York and New Jersey, recognizes that companies sometimes should be bound when they allow people to reasonably believe that a corporation’s employee has more authority than he or she actually has. Under the doctrine of “apparent authority,” a company potentially can be held legally responsible when it allows others to reasonably believe that someone else had the authority to act on the company’s behalf. The law recognizes that often when a company’s representative has the apparent authority to act on the company’s behalf, the company should be legally bound by the representative’s actions. Accordingly, since you reasonably believed the Vice President had the authority to hire you, at least in some states you would at least have a good argument to enforce your employment contract based on the Vice President’s apparent authority to hire you.

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