The Appellate Division recently determined that a high school health and physical education teacher acquired tenure while on a one-year maternity leave. In Kolodziej v. Board of Education of the Southern Regional High School District, the Appellate Division ruled that Ms. Kolodziej’s one-year maternity leave, which followed three years of service in the district, constituted continued employment at the beginning of the succeeding academic year and allowed her to acquire tenure. The Court remanded the matter to the commissioner to determine whether she had attained the seniority to be rehired and to determine the measure of her damages.
The Appellate Division’s holding reversed the commissioner’s decision, which held that the yearlong maternity leave constituted a break in employment service, which prevented her from achieving tenure. Ms. Kolodziej was employed for the complete 2002-2003, 2003-2004 and 2004-2005 academic years. She was granted a board-approved unpaid maternity leave for the full 2005-2006 academic year, some of which was under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). She was reemployed for the full 2006-2007 academic year. In April 2007, the board instituted a reduction-in-force (RIF) and advised Ms. Kolodziej that her position would be terminated effective Sept. 1, 2007, pursuant to the RIF plan. When a physical education position opened up in August 2007, she was not considered for the position as she had not acquired tenure and, accordingly had not been placed on a preferred eligible recall list.
In reaching its decision, the Appellate Division determined that Ms. Kolodziej remained an employee for the 2005-2006 academic year, albeit an inactive employee, on a board-approved maternity leave. The employment relationship did not cease during her leave period. She was not “rehired” for the 2006-2007 academic year, she simply returned to work.