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New Jersey district sues to fire teacher who lives out of state

The Somerville (N.j.) district contends that the teacher at Somerville High is not eligible to work at the school because she lives in Pennsylvania.

After hiring a detective agency to conduct surveillance, the Somerville (N.J.) school district has gone to court to fire a high school teacher who the district contends no longer lives in New Jersey.

The Bridgewater Courier News reports that the district is suing Rebecca Drake, who has taught English at Somerville High for a dozen years. They assert that she should forfeit her tenure rights because she now lives in Newtown, Pa.

Under the New Jersey First Act law, all public employees must move into the state within a year of being hired. Employees who live in another state may apply for a waiver from the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

The state denied Drake’s waiver application on Dec. 5, 2017.

Before filing a suit, the school district hired a detective agency to conduct surveillance on Drake to establish she was living in Pennsylvania. The district paid the agency $500, according to school financial records.

Drake, whose salary was $75,401 in 2017-18, has filed a counterclaim against the district. She contends that the district’s lawsuit was “in retaliation” for exercising her rights to request leaves of absence in connection with the birth of a child and childcare.

Drake was given a maternity leave of absence from Feb. 26, 2018, through April 9, 2018, and an unpaid childcare leave of absence from April 10, 2018, through June 30, 2018.

According to the lawsuit, Superintendent of Schools Timothy Teehan learned on Jan. 18, 2018 that because Drake’s home in Sayreville had been foreclosed, she was living in Pennsylvania with “her significant other.”

The lawsuit argues that because Drake had not gotten a residency waiver prior to moving to Pennsylvania that she became ineligible to work in the school district.

Court documents say the detective agency found records of the foreclosure on the Sayreville home. The agency then conducted surveillance of the Pennsylvania address on three days in March 2018. The agency took pictures of Drake, her children and her minivan.

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