South Jersey Catholic School Teachers Organization v. St. Teresa of the Infant Jesus Church Elementary School

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (New Jersey)
Writing for the CourtCOLEMAN
Citation696 A.2d 709,150 N.J. 575
Parties, 155 L.R.R.M. (BNA) 2972, 119 Ed. Law Rep. 1035 SOUTH JERSEY CATHOLIC SCHOOL TEACHERS ORGANIZATION, an unincorporated labor organization, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. ST. TERESA OF THE INFANT JESUS CHURCH ELEMENTARY SCHOOL, Saint Bartholomew Church Elementary School, The Church of Saint Jude Elementary School, Saint Joseph Pro-Cathedral Church Elementary School, Saint Joseph Church Elementary School and Sacred Heart Church Elementary School, Defendants-Appellants.
Decision Date24 July 1997

Page 575

150 N.J. 575
696 A.2d 709, 155 L.R.R.M. (BNA) 2972,
119 Ed. Law Rep. 1035
SOUTH JERSEY CATHOLIC SCHOOL TEACHERS ORGANIZATION, an
unincorporated labor organization, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
ST. TERESA OF THE INFANT JESUS CHURCH ELEMENTARY SCHOOL,
Saint Bartholomew Church Elementary School, The Church of
Saint Jude Elementary School, Saint Joseph Pro-Cathedral
Church Elementary School, Saint Joseph Church Elementary
School and Sacred Heart Church Elementary School,
Defendants-Appellants.
Supreme Court of New Jersey.
Argued March 18, 1997.
Decided July 24, 1997.

James A. Serritella, Chicago, IL, a member of the Illinois bar, and Martin F. McKernan, Jr., Camden, for defendants-appellants (McKernan, McKernan & Godino, attorneys; Mr. Serritella, Mr. McKernan, James J. Godino, Jr., Francis J. Monari, Christopher G. Martucci, James C. Geoly, a member of the Illinois bar and W. Cole Durham, Jr., a member of the Utah bar, of counsel and on the briefs).

Benjamin Eisner, Philadelphia, PA, for plaintiff-respondent (Spear, Wilderman, Borish, Endy, Spear and Runckel, attorneys).

Page 581

James Katz, Cherry Hill, for amicus curiae, American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (Tomar, Simonoff, Adourian, O'Brien, Kaplan, Jacoby & Graziano, attorneys).

The opinion of the Court was delivered by

COLEMAN, J.

The issue raised in this appeal is whether lay teachers in church-operated elementary schools have an enforceable state constitutional right to unionize and to engage in collective bargaining respecting secular terms and conditions of employment without violating the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Plaintiff asserts that it was elected the majority representative of the lay teachers employed by defendants. The trial court refused to compel defendants to recognize and to bargain with plaintiff as the labor representative of the lay teachers on the ground that to do so would violate the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses of the First Amendment. The Appellate Division reversed in a published opinion. 290 N.J.Super. 359, 675 A.2d 1155 (1996). We granted defendants' petition for certification. 146 N.J. 567, 683 A.2d 1162 (1996).

We now affirm and hold that the lay elementary-school teachers have a state constitutional right to unionize and to engage in collective bargaining. The scope of that negotiation, however, is limited by the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment to wages, certain benefit plans, and any other secular terms or conditions of employment similar to those that are currently negotiable under an existing agreement with high school lay teachers employed by the Diocese of Camden.

696 A.2d 713] I

Defendants are elementary schools operated by the Catholic Diocese of Camden. Each of the church-operated schools employs a sizeable number of lay teachers. Plaintiff, a lay teacher organization,

Page 582

asserts that it was elected by a majority of the lay teachers employed in each defendant school. When plaintiff sought to have defendants recognize it as the collective-bargaining representative of the lay teachers, a Board of Pastors, acting on behalf of defendants, informed plaintiff that it would be recognized only if it signed a document entitled "Minimum Standards for Organizations Wishing to Represent Lay Teachers in a Parish or Regional Catholic Elementary School in the Diocese of Camden" ("Minimum Standards"). Plaintiff was informed that the Minimum Standards were not negotiable. That document, among other things, vests in the Board of Pastors complete and final authority to dictate the outcome of any dispute; it also prohibits plaintiff from assessing dues or collecting agency fees from non-union members.

Plaintiff refused to accept the Minimum Standards, claiming that to do so would have amounted to bargaining away a number of lay teacher rights prior to certification of the union and before the collective-bargaining process had commenced. Defendants accordingly refused to recognize plaintiff or to bargain collectively. Plaintiff then instituted the present litigation to compel defendants to recognize it as the collective-bargaining representative of the lay teachers and to compel defendants to engage in collective bargaining respecting the terms and conditions of employment Plaintiff maintained that the lay teachers are private employees and sought relief based on Article I, Paragraph 19 of the New Jersey Constitution. It provides:

Persons in private employment shall have the right to organize and bargain collectively. Persons in public employment shall have the right to organize, present to and make known to the State, or any of its political subdivisions or agencies, their grievances and proposals through representatives of their own choosing.

[N.J. Const. art. I, p 19.

The trial court granted summary judgment dismissing the complaint. It concluded that granting the relief sought by plaintiff would interfere with defendants' free exercise of religion and

Page 583

would involve an excessive entanglement between the State and the Catholic Church.

The Appellate Division found that the present case involves only a Free Exercise Clause claim rather than an Establishment Clause claim or both. Relying on the right to organize and bargain collectively established by the New Jersey Constitution, the court concluded that there is a compelling state interest in permitting plaintiff to organize and to engage in collective bargaining that outweighs the claimed burden on defendants' free exercise rights. That compelling state interest was identified as "the preservation of industrial peace and a sound economic order." 290 N.J.Super. at 389, 675 A.2d 1155 (internal quotation marks omitted). It also found that distinctions between the levels of religious indoctrination that occur in elementary and high schools are not controlling in the present case given that the Diocese of Camden has bargained collectively over secular terms and conditions of employment in the high schools for a number of years.

II

Defendants argue that the decision in NLRB v. Catholic Bishop, 440 U.S. 490, 99 S.Ct. 1313, 59 L.Ed.2d 533 (1979), deprived the state courts of subject matter jurisdiction and dictates that defendants cannot be compelled to recognize the union and to engage in collective bargaining without violating the Religion Clauses because the controversy involves a labor and management dispute that is controlled by the National Labor Relations Act ("NLRA"), 29 U.S.C.A. §§ 151-169. States are preempted from acting on matters subject to the NLRA unless the National Labor Relations Board ("NLRB") has declined, or would decline, to assert jurisdiction. Lay Faculty Ass'n v. Roman Catholic Archdiocese, 122 N.J.Super. 260, 269, 300 A.2d 173 (App.Div.1973). Although the United States Supreme Court in Catholic Bishop concluded that Congress did not intend that cases addressing whether lay teachers in [696 A.2d 714] church-operated schools have a right to unionize and to engage in collective bargaining be covered

Page 584

by the NLRA, Catholic Bishop, supra, 440 U.S. at 504-07, 99 S.Ct. at 1320-22, 59 L.Ed.2d at 543-45, defendants nonetheless maintain that the Appellate Division should be reversed for failing to follow the Supreme Court's decision in Catholic Bishop.

Plaintiff and the American Civil Liberties Union ("ACLU"), appearing as amicus curiae, respond that defendants have misinterpreted Catholic Bishop. Plaintiff and the ACLU maintain that (1) our courts may exercise subject matter jurisdiction over the present case; and (2) defendants may be compelled to recognize the union and to bargain collectively. The ACLU also asserts that Catholic Bishop "justifies the application of [Article I, Paragraph 19]" in the present case.

Defendants' reliance on Catholic Bishop is misplaced. That case was decided strictly on statutory interpretation grounds. The Court ruled that in the absence of "an 'affirmative intention of the Congress clearly expressed' " that teachers in church-operated schools should be covered by the NLRA, the NLRB did not have jurisdiction to "require church-operated schools to grant recognition to unions as bargaining agents for their teachers." Id. at 506, 99 S.Ct. at 1322, 59 L.Ed.2d at 545. The Court avoided the constitutional claims that were asserted. Even if the issues under the Religion Clauses had been reached, the present case is distinguishable from a case involving the NLRA. The regulatory scheme under the NLRA requires the NLRB to act as monitor-referee, thus causing much more entanglement of government with religion than does Article I, Paragraph 19 of the New Jersey Constitution. The NLRB maintains ongoing regulatory authority over parties engaged in collective bargaining, exercising investigatory, prosecutorial, and adjudicatory authority. 29 U.S.C.A. §§ 158-161. In the present case, there is no "leviathan-like governmental regulatory board" to monitor the parties' negotiations. 290 N.J.Super. at 391, 675 A.2d 1155.

When, as in the present case, the subject matter of a case falls outside the scope of the NLRA, "state tribunals are free to exercise jurisdiction over the subject matter." Cooper v. Nutley

Page 585

Sun Printing Co., 36 N.J. 189, 194, 175 A.2d 639 (1961); see also Christ the King Reg'l High School v. Culvert, 815 F.2d 219, 222-23 (2d Cir.1987). Article I, Paragraph 19 was intended to protect workers who are not covered by the NLRA. George Harms Constr. Co. v. New Jersey Turnpike Auth., 137 N.J. 8, 28, 644 A.2d 76 (1994); Richard A. Goldberg & Robert F. Williams, Farmworkers' Organizational and Collective Bargaining Rights in New Jersey: Implementing Self-Executing State Constitutional Rights, 18 Rutgers L.J. 729, 742 (1987). The right of private employees to organize and to bargain collectively is so important that it has been elevated to constitutional status and is regarded as a fundamental right. George Harms,...

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6 practice notes
  • Am. Atheists, Inc. v. Port Auth. of N.Y. & N.J., No. 11 Civ. 6026(DAB).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • March 28, 2013
    ...be limited to the federal provisions.” South Jersey Catholic Sch. Teachers Org. v. St. Teresa of the Infant Jesus Church Elementary Sch., 150 N.J. 575, 586, 696 A.2d 709 (1997) (citing Clayton v. Kervick, 56 N.J. 523, 528, 267 A.2d 503 (1970)). Since Plaintiffs' Establishment Clause claim f......
  • Petro v. Platkin, DOCKET NO. A-3837-19
    • United States
    • New Jersey Superior Court – Appellate Division
    • June 10, 2022
    ...thereof by civil authority." 277 A.3d 500 S. Jersey Catholic Sch. Teachers’ Org. v. St. Teresa of the Infant Jesus Church Elementary Sch., 150 N.J. 575, 593, 696 A.2d 709 (1997) (quoting School Dist. v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203, 223, 83 S.Ct. 1560, 10 L.Ed.2d 844 (1963) ). It protects both the......
  • Am. Atheists, Inc. v. Port Auth. of N.Y. & N.J., 11 Civ. 6026 (DAB)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • March 28, 2013
    ...be limited to the federal provisions." South Jersey Catholic Sch. Teachers Org. v. St. Teresa of the Infant Jesus Church Elementary Sch., 150 N.J. 575, 586 (1997) (citing Clayton v. Kervick, 56 N.J. 523, 528 (1970)). Since Plaintiffs' Establishment Clause claim fails, so too does their New ......
  • Petro v. Platkin, A-3837-19
    • United States
    • New Jersey Superior Court – Appellate Division
    • June 10, 2022
    ...invasions thereof by civil authority." S. Jersey Catholic Sch. Teachers' Org. v. St. Teresa of the Infant Jesus Church Elementary Sch., 150 N.J. 575, 593 (1997) (quoting School Dist. v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203, 223 (1963)). It protects both the "freedom to believe," which "is absolute," and t......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
4 cases
  • Am. Atheists, Inc. v. Port Auth. of N.Y. & N.J., No. 11 Civ. 6026(DAB).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • March 28, 2013
    ...be limited to the federal provisions.” South Jersey Catholic Sch. Teachers Org. v. St. Teresa of the Infant Jesus Church Elementary Sch., 150 N.J. 575, 586, 696 A.2d 709 (1997) (citing Clayton v. Kervick, 56 N.J. 523, 528, 267 A.2d 503 (1970)). Since Plaintiffs' Establishment Clause claim f......
  • Am. Atheists, Inc. v. Port Auth. of N.Y. & N.J., 11 Civ. 6026 (DAB)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • March 28, 2013
    ...be limited to the federal provisions." South Jersey Catholic Sch. Teachers Org. v. St. Teresa of the Infant Jesus Church Elementary Sch., 150 N.J. 575, 586 (1997) (citing Clayton v. Kervick, 56 N.J. 523, 528 (1970)). Since Plaintiffs' Establishment Clause claim fails, so too does their New ......
  • Petro v. Platkin, A-3837-19
    • United States
    • New Jersey Superior Court – Appellate Division
    • June 10, 2022
    ...invasions thereof by civil authority." S. Jersey Catholic Sch. Teachers' Org. v. St. Teresa of the Infant Jesus Church Elementary Sch., 150 N.J. 575, 593 (1997) (quoting School Dist. v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203, 223 (1963)). It protects both the "freedom to believe," which "is absolute," and t......
  • Mea v. Christian Bros. Institute, Docket No. 256256.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Michigan
    • August 16, 2005
    ...statutory interpretation grounds," South Jersey Catholic School Teachers Org. v. St. Teresa of the Infant Jesus Church Elementary School, 150 N.J. 575, 584, 696 A.2d 709 (1997), we agree with the approach the Court used in Catholic Bishop to determine the legislative intent behind the statu......

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