Scarinci Hollenbeck Duo Secures Key Ruling on “Don’t Pass the Trash” Law

LYNDHURST, N.J., Aug. 3, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — Scarinci Hollenbeck is pleased to announce that Partner and Chair of the firm’s Education law practice group John G. Geppert and Sarah A. Gober successfully secured a ruling on behalf of the Hackensack Board of Education. The case involved a dispute over the interpretation of New Jersey’s "Don’t Pass the Trash" law, enacted on June 1, 2018.

"We are very pleased that the Judge ruled in our favor and established this important precedent for school districts," stated Mr. Geppert.

Background of the Case

A Hackensack teacher had made several posts on social media that were viewable by her students stating a variety of expletive-laden and sexual messages. During an investigation by the Hackensack District in 2013, the teacher resigned, pursuant to a settlement agreement. In 2019, the teacher (referred to as "A.B.") applied to the Clifton school district, which sent the required questionnaire to Hackensack under the "Don’t Pass the Trash" law, asking if A.B. was the subject of any investigation into sexual misconduct, and resigned when sexual misconduct allegations were under investigation. The Hackensack district answered "Yes."

A.B. filed a Verified Complaint with the Chancery Division of the Superior Court seeking an injunction rescinding the district’s response to the questionnaire and preventing such future responses, and compensatory and punitive damages. Superior Court Judge DeLuca dismissed the complaint and transferred the case to the Commissioner of Education for a substantive determination, where it was assigned to Administrative Law Judge Scollo. A.B. argued that the statute did not apply to agreements entered into before June 1, 2018 and argued the District acted inappropriately in providing a "Yes" response to the questionnaire.

Scarinci Hollenbeck attorneys John G. Geppert and Sarah A. Gober filed a Motion for Summary Decision, arguing that the "Don’t Pass the Trash" law applied to settlement agreements before June 1, 2018; A.B. had signed an authorization permitting disclosure of the information; and the Board acted appropriately with their response as there was an investigation which resulted in a resignation, and the above language constituted sexual misconduct based upon the statute’s definition of sexual misconduct as including any written or electronic communication directed toward a student, designed to establish a sexual relationship, including "making sexually suggestive comments" and "any other sexual, indecent or erotic contact with a student."

In his decision of July 22, 2021, Judge Scollo agreed with the arguments put forth and granted the Hackensack Board’s Motion for Summary Decision and dismissed A.B.’s petition.

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