Seton Hall Law Clinic Wins Case Before New Jersey Supreme Court:
Department of Labor Cannot Treat Pretrial Incarceration as Per Se Bar to
NEWARK – Seton Hall University School of Law’s Center for Social Justice (CSJ) prevailed in Haley v. Board of Review, a case challenging the denial of unemployment benefits to Newark resident Clarence Haley based upon his pretrial incarceration for charges later dismissed. The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed the Appellate Division’s decision denying Haley benefits and held that under New Jersey’s Unemployment Compensation Law “pretrial detention is not an absolute bar” to benefits.
Haley lost his job as a maintenance worker in 2017 after he was arrested for crimes that he did not commit. Although a grand jury refused to return an indictment and Haley was released from detention, weeks of pretrial incarceration left him jobless. The Department of Labor subsequently denied Haley unemployment benefits based upon N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a)’s disqualification for workers who leave work “voluntarily without good cause attributable to such work.” Even though Haley did everything in his power to retain his job while he fought the criminal charges, the agency concluded that he “voluntarily” left his job and was responsible for his separation from employment. The Appellate Division affirmed this reasoning.
In its decision today, the Court rejected this approach as inconsistent with the statute and its purpose. The Court made clear that the Department of Labor must “review the totality of the circumstances” surrounding pretrial incarceration and cannot impose a per se rule that workers subject to pretrial incarceration have left their jobs voluntarily. Because that review did not occur in Haley’s case, the Court reversed and remanded the matter to the Department of Labor for further proceedings consistent with its opinion.
“The Supreme Court’s decision reaffirmed a bedrock principle: people who are subjected to pretrial incarceration followed by dismissal of all charges against them have not done anything wrong and deserve equal justice including access to unemployment benefits,” said Professor Jenny-Brooke Condon of the Center for Social Justice. “Far too often arrests impose lasting economic and personal consequences upon the accused even when the charges—as in Haley’s case—are baseless. This disproportionately impacts people of color.”
Since 2018, multiple teams of law students at Seton Hall Law School’s Center for Social Justice have worked to vindicate Haley’s right to benefits, a result brought closer by the Court’s reversal of the lower court’s denial of benefits.
Former Seton Hall Law student Jenna Passerino (’19), now an associate at Kaufman Dolowich & Voluck, LLP, who worked on the case before the Appellate Division, emphasized the importance of relentless social justice lawyering and her client’s early contributions to the victory.
“We knew from the first day Mr. Haley came to our office, explaining his situation and presenting his own legal research demonstrating New Jersey was an outlier on this issue, that he had suffered an injustice. It is because of his perseverance and the clinic’s commitment that his story was heard by the State’s highest Court. It is inspiring to see the changes one client and dedicated social justice attorneys can make in our legal system.”
In addition to Ms. Passerino, the following graduates and Seton Hall Law Students contributed to the victory: Jennifer Cacchioli (’19); Andrew Koske (’19); Tracey Buffer (’18); and, Hannah Weinberg (’18). Most recently, Melanie Laprade (’21) and Kamil Gajda (’21) helped prepare for oral argument and Jonathan Rekstad (’21) and Marina Kaghado (’21) continue to represent Haley.
Although the Court’s decision imposes an important limit on the denial of unemployment benefits based upon pretrial incarceration, Professor Condon noted that Justice Barry Albin’s dissent was more faithful to the statute and its remedial purpose. Justice Albin disagreed with the Court’s decision to remand the case; he would have held “that an employee terminated solely because of an arrest and pretrial detention -- followed by a dismissal of the criminal charges -- has not ‘left work voluntarily’ and is therefore not disqualified from benefits under N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(a).”
Condon praised Justice Albin’s dissent for further recognizing that “denying unemployment benefits to those wrongfully detained will likely disproportionately impact people of color and further exacerbate racial inequities in employment and wealth” in New Jersey.
About Seton Hall University School of Law
Founded in 1951 and located in Newark, Seton Hall University School of Law is New Jersey’s only private law school and a leading Catholic law school in the New York metropolitan area. Seton Hall Law is dedicated to preparing students for the multiplicity of pathways open to professionals with a legal education in a world transformed by technology. The Law School also offers a robust selection of online and live compliance programs in privacy, cybersecurity, financial services, and health & life sciences for law and graduate students, as well as midcareer professionals.