The New Jersey Supreme Court recently ruled that disciplined college and university campus police officers in the state are eligible for special arbitration.
On December 5, the state’s highest court determined that college and university officers — like their municipal counterparts — can file for special arbitration to challenge disciplinary actions.
The court ultimately found that the appellant, New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) Police Officer Gregory DiGuglielmo, was still eligible for special arbitration as a law enforcement officer despite working for a college and not a state employment body.
The decision will impact university campus officers and future employment disputes in the state.
The case initially arose following the dismissal of DiGuglielmo, who was fired in 2019 after arresting a juvenile on a bicycle using physical force.
An internal investigation by NJIT found that Officer DiGuglielmo “did not utilize proper communication, body camera operations, dash camera operation, pursuit procedures and, most importantly, restraint” during the arrest.
Video footage showed that Officer DiGuglielmo also yelled profanities at the cyclist and failed to provide medical aid following his use of force.
DiGuglielmo then filed for arbitration with the New Jersey Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC). The committee decided that the officer was indeed eligible for arbitration based on the fact that the NJIT police force was classified as a “law enforcement agency” in the state.
However, NJIT and its legal team responded by filing a motion with a state appellate court to challenge that decision, arguing that campus police officers were not the same as municipal police officers who work for a town and, therefore, not eligible for arbitration.
The appellate court agreed with this argument and concluded that DiGuglielmo was not eligible for arbitration because he was not suspended without pay.
The officer then challenged this ruling in the state Supreme Court, which finally reversed the appellate court’s decision and affirmed PERC’s original ruling.
“A plain reading of the relevant statutes dictates that special disciplinary arbitration is not limited to municipal officers, so arbitration is available to public university police officers like Officer DiGuglielmo. Further, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 40A:14-210, an officer suspended with pay prior to termination is eligible to engage in special disciplinary arbitration. The Court, therefore, reinstates PERC’s decision,” the court concluded.
The court provided further evidence from legislation passed in 2009 that enhanced the rights of disciplined law enforcement officers and which defined “law enforcement officer” as “all-inclusive, incorporating anyone empowered by statute to act for the detection, investigation, arrest, conviction, detention, or rehabilitation of persons violating the criminal laws of this state.”
The case highlights the complexity of labor disputes between private and public entities.