On August 14, 2017, the former Interim Superintendent of the Fairfield Township (Cumberland County) School District filed a Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA) or “whistleblower” lawsuit against the school district claiming that he was denied a three-year contract because school officials were displeased that he would not get excused from jury duty.

In his lawsuit, James Ruffin said that he was hired as an Assistant Principal on September 2, 2015 and the school board’s meeting minutes from December 17, 2015 are the first to show him in the position of Interim Superintendent.  Ruffin said that on June 8, 2016, he received a summons requiring him to report for grand jury duty once a week for eighteen weeks.  At about the same time, Ruffin said that he agreed to a three-year contract as Interim Superintendent but that the school district did not submit the contracts to the County in a timely manner.

Ruffin’s lawsuit claims that he was again offered a three-year contract in August 2016 which he signed in October 2016.  He said that beginning in October 2016, he had “numerous conversations and disputes with the Business Administrator and the President of the Board of Education” and that both officials “voiced displeasure with [Ruffin] having to serve grand jury duty and both repeatedly requested that [he] get himself excused from same.”  The minutes from that period show that Michelle Kennedy was the Board President and that Janecia Smith was the Business Administrator. (Michelle Kennedy is the wife of Fairfield Township Democratic Municipal Chairperson Marion Kennedy.  Mr. Kennedy, a former mayor of Fairfield, presently serves as a Class II member of the Fairfield Township Planning & Zoning Board.  Mrs. Kennedy is a member of the Fairfield Township Democratic Executive Committee.)

Ruffin claimed that he “advised [Kennedy and Smith] that he reasonably believed it was illegal to penalize an employee with respect to employment and/or threaten or otherwise coerce an employee with respect to employment because the employee was required to attend court for jury service.”  He said that the following month, he was advised that the district would begin a search for a new superintendent.  His lawsuit alleges that in December 2016, “his work schedule was being reduced to two days per week and that $800.00 was being deducted from his weekly paycheck.”

Ruffin claimed that he applied for the superintendent’s position in February 2017 but the position was given to someone else.  As of this writing, the district’s website shows Dr. Michael Knox as superintendent.  The latest minutes that show Ruffin as Interim Superintendent are from April 13, 2017.

In his lawsuit, Ruffin seeks restatement to his position, back pay and attorney fees.  He is being represented by Arthur J. Murray of Alterman & Associates, LLC of Marlton. 

Ruffin’s lawsuit consists of allegations.  Nothing has yet been proven and the burden of moving forward is on Ruffin.

Chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project. Please send all comments to [email protected]