The New Jersey Supreme Court, with six justices concurring and one dissenting, upheld the indictment on theft and official misconduct charges of a former North Bergen Board of Education employee. The former district worker had allegedly removed hundreds of board documents, including student records, in support of employment discrimination claims that she brought. NJSBA participated in the matter as amicus curiae.
The case, State of New Jersey v. Ivonne Saavedra, is a criminal proceeding that evolved from a civil matter filed by Ivonne Saavedra, a district board secretary and child study team member, against the NBBOE.
Ms. Saavedra had filed claims against the board under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) and Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA), alleging that the board discriminated and retaliated against her for threatening to disclose illegal district actions. During the discovery process, Ms. Saavedra’s attorney turned over 367 confidential documents to prove her claim, including 69 original documents concerning student and personnel records.
The board’s attorney brought the alleged theft of documents to the attention of the county prosecutor, who secured an indictment of Ms. Saavedra on charges of theft and official misconduct. She unsuccessfully attempted to have the indictment dismissed, but obtained a stay and filed an interlocutory appeal to the Appellate Division to argue that the indictment violated her due process rights.
The Appellate Division upheld the indictment and the Supreme Court concurred, finding in relevant part for school districts that the Court in its opinion in Quinlan v. Curtiss-Wright Corp., 204 N.J. 239 (2010) did not endorse self-help as an alternative to the legal process in employment litigation.
NJSBA argued that the willful removal of the confidential documents subjected the individual records to public disclosure, in violation of the Family Education Rights Privacy Act (FERPA), and potential loss of federal funding to the district. NJSBA argued that the defendant should have sought the documents through the discovery process and court rules.