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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Co-workers guilty of less egregious policy violations are not "similarly situated" to plaintiff

Co-workers guilty of less egregious policy violations are not "similarly situated" to plaintiff
Source: Kelley Drye & Warren LLP, by Michael E. Rigney, Esq.

Katherine Weber had been employed at Universities Research Association (URA) for almost twenty years when she received a negative performance review. She believed the review was unfair and filed a grievance.

The grievance was ultimately resolved in her favor and the negative review was removed from her record. Weber claims that a number of bad things began to happen to her after the grievance, ultimately including the elimination of her position in early 2004.

She accepted another position with the organization under a new supervisor. Weber had difficulty with her new supervisor from the beginning. She complained that she was the victim of retaliation and that her new supervisor treated her differently than other employees. Her supervisor complained that she was not getting her work completed and became suspicious of her computer usage. URA decided to monitor her Internet usage.

The results of its trace showed that Weber spent more than 16 hours in one workweek visiting websites unrelated to her work. Her usage included accessing dog-related sites and her personal e-mail accounts in connection with her dog training business.

URA terminated Weber's employment for violating its policies: a) requiring disclosure and authorization of outside employment and b) prohibiting the use of URA computer equipment in connection with outside employment. Weber brought suit pursuant to Title VII for gender discrimination and retaliation. Judge Andersen (N.D. Ill.) granted summary judgment to URA. Weber appeals.

In their opinion Judges Bauer, Kanne, and Tinder affirmed. The Court first concluded that Weber waived both claims under the direct method of proof by not sufficiently developing them in the district court. Since Weber does not challenge the district court's decision with respect to the retaliation claim under the indirect method, the only other issue before the Court was the discrimination claim under the indirect method. Weber attempted to meet the "similarly situated" element of her prima facie case by identifying a number of male co-workers who had unauthorized outside employment, who accessed the Internet for personal and outside employment use, and who accessed the Internet to view pornography.

The Court concluded that Weber did not meet the "similarly situated" element. To meet that requirement, she must identify employees who engaged in similar conduct in the absence of circumstances that would distinguish their conduct from hers.

The Court acknowledged that she identified multiple instances of policy violations but distinguished those violators. Weber presented no evidence that the violators had trouble finishing their work or that any of them violated a company policy "with the same reckless abandon" as Weber.

Weber v Universities Research Association (September 2, 2010). The full text of this 7th Circuit ruling is posted on the Internet at: http://www.intheiropinion.com/uploads/file/weber.pdf
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Determining if there is a basis for disciplinary charges

Determining if there is a basis for disciplinary charges
Waters v Fire Commissioners, Supreme Court, [Not selected for publication in the Official Reports]

The Waters case concerned a rather rare issue: whether or not the activities underlying disciplinary action provide any basis for bring disciplinary action against an individual.

As State Supreme Court Justice Lockman saw it, “[t]he issue to be resolved is not whether Captain Michael Waters, a decorated volunteer firefighter, performed the underlying acts alleged, but whether those acts constitute a violation of the by-law of the Massapequa Fire District with which he has been charged.”

On January 18, 1999, Waters telephoned other fire captains concerning a new driving policy that was of concern to the membership of the fire company. Fire Department Chief Michael Gange was very interested in this issue. However, instead of telling Waters that he wanted to be present at any discussion of the driving policy, Gange suspended him for making the calls after the two had “exchanged words.”*

Subsequently Chief Gange advised the Fire Commissioners that Waters “has been” relieved of duty, as he “admitted ... that he attempted to call a meeting of the officers ... without checking with or scheduling it through the Chiefs office.”

Ultimately Waters was served with disciplinary charges alleging that he violated department by-law Section 3.1(a), which, in relevant part, provide that “[t]he Chief shall be chairman of the meetings of the Department....” Found guilty of the charges, Waters was suspended for sixty days.

The court found this determination troubling. In addition to noting a number of significant procedural errors that constituted a denial of due process, Justice Lockman said that there was no evidence of any “meeting of the department”. Commenting that “there was no evidence of any meeting at all, departmental or otherwise, and no allegation that a meeting was ever held,” the court noted that the disciplinary decision itself merely states that “Captain Michael Waters’ acts constituted an attempt to schedule a meeting.”

As the evidence shows that the only act Waters took, and the only act which is supported in the record, was to place telephone calls to the district’s several firehouses to request that the officers present come over and discuss driver policy, Justice Lockman concluded that “there is no evidence, substantial or otherwise, to support the charge that Waters violated the by-law which states that the Chief shall chair department meetings.” The court annulled the disciplinary determination.

In such situations, courts would usually remand the matter back to the agency for a new hearing. Here, however, Justice Lockman said that there were multiple procedural irregularities which, when taken together, present a due process violation, as well as a “record utterly lacking in evidence of a violation of the by-laws.” Accordingly, the court elected to rescind the disciplinary action rather that return it for further proceedings.

* Chief Gange testified “I contacted Captain Waters on Tuesday, January 19. I asked him if he was calling an officers meeting. He said yes, he was. I said ‘Without my knowledge?’ He goes, ‘That’s correct’. I asked him if he was looking for a suspension of time. He said, ‘Do whatever you have to do’ and I said ‘You’re relieved of duty.”

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If you are interested in learning more about disciplinary procedures involving public officers and employees, please click here: http://thedisciplinebook.blogspot.com/
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Equal pay for jobs the performance of which requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility

Equal pay for jobs the performance of which requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility
Belfi v Long Island Railroad, 2nd Cir., 191 F.3d 129

The Equal Pay Act [EPA] prohibits employers from discriminating among employees on the basis of gender by paying higher wages to employees of the opposite sex for “equal work on jobs the performance of which requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and which are performed under similar working conditions [29 USC. Section 206(d)(1)].” Title VII bars discrimination on the basis of gender.

The Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in New York commenced its review of Susan Belfi’s appeal of the summary dismissal of her Title VII and EPA complaints by a federal district court judge by commenting:

On this appeal we deal with an employer long on salary policies, but short on reasons justifying their application to a female employee whose salary for the same work was less than those of her male peers.

Belfi, originally employed by the Long Island Railroad [LIRR] in 1973 as a steno-typist, was promoted to the position of Office Engineer-Communications on a temporary basis in November 1989. Her salary: the minimum salary for that position, $39,508. On January 1, 1990 the minimum salary was increased to $40,691 but Belfi’s salary was not adjusted to this new, higher “minimum salary” rate.

On July 16, 1990, Belfi was permanently appointed Office Engineer-Signal in the Signal Department at $40,691 per year while the salaries of her two male peers -- the Office Engineer-Communications and the Office Engineer-Electric Traction -- were set at $52,794 and $53,046 respectively.*

By 1993, Belfi’s salary was increased to $44,857 while one co-worker’s salary was increased to $57,240. The other co-worker’s salary was not increased “because of his anticipated retirement.” On June 15, 1994, LIRR hired Gary Barnett to replace the retired Office Engineer-Electric Traction at a salary of $51,249, $6,000 more than Belfi’s salary and $8,931 more than the minimum for the position.

Belfi became aware of the salary differences in October 1992 and filed a number of grievances. LIRR offered a number of reasons to explain away these salary disparities, including:

1. The “time spent in the position by each of the incumbents” was the reason for the differences.

2. The 1986 transition of the office engineer positions to the Salary Plan, caused the disparity.

3. It was necessary to pay Barnett $51,249 to induce him to accept the position because “[i]n order to attract union employees to management, LIRR has found it necessary to consider W-2 earnings, which include overtime, in applying the ten percent (10%) promotional increase in accordance with its policy.”

Eventually LIRR consented to bringing Belfi’s salary up to Barnett’s retroactive to January 1, 1995. Still, Belfi’s salary from June 15, 1994 through December 31, 1994 was significantly less than Barnett’s.

The Circuit Court of Appeals emphasized that the EPA does not require the complainant to prove that the employer intended to discriminate in order to prevail.

Accordingly, a prima facie showing of the salary disparities was based on gender gives rise to a presumption of discrimination. If the plaintiff makes out a prima facie case under the EPA, the burden of persuasion shifts to the employer to show that the wage disparity is justified by one or more of the affirmative defenses allowed under the Act:

1. a seniority system;

2. a merit system;

3. a system which measures earnings by quantity or quality of production; or

4. a differential based on any other factor other than sex and that there is a legitimate business reason for implementing the gender-neutral factor that brought about the wage differential.

Once the employer offers one or more of these “affirmative defenses,” the burden of going forward shifts back to the employee, who must show that the reason given by the employer is, in fact, a pretext for unlawful discrimination in order to prevail.

The Circuit Court rejected LIRR’s combination of two affirmative defenses: seniority and factors other than sex, as justification for the differential between the salaries of Belfi and her male counterparts. Rather, it said, it was persuaded that these justifications were a pretext, as the evidence showed that its salary plan allows for an inequity increase under two circumstances:

1. where the employee’s salary is low in comparison with peers as a result of restructuring, reorganization, or job consolidation; or

2. where the promotion of a represented employee to a management position may have resulted in his or her earning a salary greater than that of a seasoned incumbent.

Accordingly, the Circuit Court concluded, there exist genuine issues of material fact regarding pretext sufficient to preclude the summary dismissal of Belfi’s EPA claims. It returned the case to the lower court for its further consideration of these claims.

The Circuit Court, however, affirmed the lower court’s summarily dismissing Belfi’s Title VII complaint.

* The salary range for these three “Office Engineer” positions was determined using the “Hay Method.” The Hay Method assigns a “point value” to a position based on the skills and talents needed to perform the job. A minimum, midpoint, and maximum salary for the position is then set. The decision notes that three positions had the same “Hay point value.”
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Filing for accidental disability retirement

Filing for accidental disability retirement
Sukup v McCall, App. Div., Third Dept., 264 AD2d 921

The Sukup case illustrates the importance of filing a timely application for accidental disability retirement benefits. Simply put, if the individual, or his or her representative, fails to file the application in time, the application for such benefits will be rejected. However, critical to such a determination is that the applicant knew that he or she was actually terminated from employment.

Broome County landfill employee Richard Sukup sustained a work-related accident in June 1994. Placed on Workers’ Compensation Leave pursuant to Section 71 of the Civil Service Law, the County terminated his employment after a three-month extension of his one-year leave of absence expired on September 24, 1995.*

In February 1997, Sukup filed for accidental disability retirement benefits. His application was rejected as untimely.

Sukup, however, denied receiving any notice that his employment had been terminated or that his leave had expired. As the Appellate Division pointed out, there was no direct evidence that the County notified him of the termination of his employment.

Clearly, Retirement and Social Security Law Section 605(b)(2) provides that an application for disability retirement benefits must be submitted within 12 months after an employee is advised that his or her employment status had been terminated.

The Comptroller concluded that the two identical letters concerning COBRA benefits that the County sent to Sukup in 1995 indicating that his employment was placed on “non-payroll status” effective June 24, 1994 constituted notice “of the termination of his employment no later than October 1, 1995.”**

However, a notice of “non-payroll status” could simply mean that the individual has been placed on “leave without pay” rather than he or she is “terminated.”

In this instance the Appellate Division concluded there was significant confusion as to whether Sukup received any notice that his employment had been terminated. For example, although the COBRA application form relied upon by the Comptroller lists a number of possible reasons for a change of enrollment, including termination, none of the boxes is checked and no “reason” was indicated on the form.

Also, although the “Employee Final Clearance Form,” which is to be completed upon an employee’s separation from employment, signed by Sukup was date-stamped “September 25, 1995,” it was apparently actually signed by Sukup and five other County employees, including Sukup’s supervisor, on either August 16 or August 19, 1996.

Because of “the ambiguity, confusion and uncertainty created by the notices to Sukup advising him that he had been placed on “non-payroll status” and, more importantly, the “Employee Final Clearance Form” dated in August 1996, the court deemed Sukup’s February 1997 application for disability retirement was timely.

This ruling demonstrates the importance of the employer making certain that an individual on leave without pay is given complete and accurate information concerning his or her status as an employee.

* For the purposes of Section 71, an employee may be terminated after being absent on workers’ compensation leave for a cumulative period of one year. In Duncan v NYS Developmental Center, 63 NY2d 128, the Court of Appeals specifically considered “termination” under Section 71 and ruled that it was permitted.

** COBRA requires that employees who are covered by an employment-related health care plan are to be given the opportunity to elect continuation of such coverage after some qualifying event, including termination of employment [29 USC Section 1161].
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Past practices and the Taylor Law

Past practices and the Taylor Law
Walden PBA v PERB, 263 AD2d 885

The Walden PBA filed an improper practice charge with PERB claiming that the Village of Walden had failed to negotiate in good faith in violation of Section 209-a(1)(d) of the Civil Service Law.

The PBA said that the Walden “unilaterally discontinued certain fringe benefits previously provided to police officers that were on General Municipal Law Section 207-c leave due to injury or illness incurred in the performance of their duties.” It was conceded that the “terminated benefits had previously been provided by the village pursuant to a long-standing past practice.”

The village argued that the “PBA had contractually waived the requirement of collective bargaining as to all past practices,” including the terminated benefits. Walden pointed to what the Appellate Division characterized as the “following unqualified language” in support of its position: “All past practices may be continued at the Village’s discretion.”

Reversing its Administrative Law Judge’s ruling, PERB concluded that the PBA had waived the Village’s obligation to negotiate changes in past practices. As a result, the PBA filed an Article 78 proceeding seeking to annul PERB’s determination.

Although a State Supreme Court justice overturned PERB’s determination, finding that it was not reasonable or rational, the Appellate Division reversed, holding that PERB’s determination represents a rational, supportable interpretation of the parties’ collective bargaining agreement.

In sustaining PERB’s ruling, the Appellate Division pointed out the following key elements:

1. A public employer commits an improper practice by unilaterally changing noncontractual practices concerning existing terms and conditions of employment.

2. An employee organization may release a public employer of its statutory duty to negotiate changes in mandatorily negotiable past practices.

3. A bargained-for waiver satisfies the employer’s bargaining obligation under the Taylor Law.

According to the decision, the parties themselves agreed that the PBA effected a collective bargaining waiver. The dispute centered on the question of whether “PBA waived the Village’s obligation to negotiate changes in ‘[a]ll past practices’” -- the village’s position, ... or “merely waived all past practices pertaining to grievance procedures” -- the PBA position.

The Appellate Division said that “this dispute poses questions involving the interpretation of a collective bargaining agreement which are within PERB’s area of expertise.” Accordingly, PERB’s interpretation is entitled to substantial deference and should be upheld if it is rational, reasonable, legally permissible and is supported by the text of the agreement.

Finding that PERB’s ruling satisfied all three tests, the court upheld PERB’s interpretation of the collective bargaining agreement, commenting that the Board's interpretation was neither arbitrary nor capricious.
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Court approves county personnel officer’s payroll decertification of individuals not employed in accordance with the Civil Service Law

Court approves county personnel officer’s payroll decertification of individuals not employed in accordance with the Civil Service Law
North Greenbush v Director of Personnel, Supreme Court, [Not selected for publication in the Official Reports]

Section 100 of the Civil Service Law requires the responsible civil service commission to periodically certify the payroll of all of the public entities under its jurisdiction.

The responsible commission is required to examine the agency’s payroll at least once each year “to determine that all persons employed in such department, agency or authority are employed in accordance with law.” Section 101 of the Civil Service Law makes it a misdemeanor to pay an individual whom the responsible commission has refused to certify on the payroll.

On May 24, 1999, Rensselaer County Bureau of Personnel Director Christian K. Mahoney wrote to the Town of North Greenbush setting “52 conditions” that the Town had to meet in order for its payroll to be certified. The Town complied with 45 of these conditions. It, however, challenged Mahoney’s determination that seven police officers employed by the Town were not eligible to remain on the payroll.

According to Justice James B. Canfield’s decision, “these issues [involving the police officers] have been simmering for years in some cases.” He noted that North Greenbush and the affected police officers “merely ignored them” until the May 24, 1999 letter rather than “promptly challenge them administratively.”

Essentially, said the court, North Greenbush “failed to demonstrate that it was in compliance [with the Civil Service Law] or that either it or the officers pursued their administrative remedies prior to May 24, 1999.”

Ruling that North Greenbush failed to meet it burden of proving that Mahoney’s efforts “to enforce the civil service law by refusing to certify the payroll at this time is arbitrary, capricious or illegal,” Justice Canfield dismissed its petition.
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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Appointing authority has discretion to reject a former employee's request seeking reinstatement to his or her former position

Appointing authority has discretion to reject a former employee's request seeking reinstatement to his or her former position
Silberzweig v Doherty, 2010 NY Slip Op 06709, Decided on September 28, 2010, Appellate Division, First Department

Matthew Silberzweig, a sanitation worker with the New York City Department of Sanitation [DOS] was terminated after he had failed to contact DOS concerning his being absent from work without approval. The reason for the absence: Silberzweig had been arrested.

After he had been acquitted of the charges filed against him, Silberzweig asked DOS to reinstate him to his former position. When DOS denied his request, Silberzweig sued and won a Supreme Court order vacating and annulling the Commissioner’s decision rejecting his application for reinstatement.

The Appellate Division unanimously reversed the lower court’s ruling “on the law.”

The court said that considering Silberzweig’s “prior disciplinary record and his poor performance review,” the Commissioner’s denial of Silberzweig's request for reinstatement after the criminal charges against him were dismissed "was rational, lawful and a provident exercise of discretion.”

Further, said the Appellate Division, the record did not conclusively establish that DOS had a policy of automatically reinstating former employees who were acquitted of all criminal charges against them.

Significantly, the court noted that under Personnel Rules and Regulations of the City of New York Department of Citywide Administrative Services an agency head has the discretion to determine whether or not to reinstate a person who was dismissed from a permanent competitive position in the agency and “nothing in Civil Service Law §75 or the Administrative Code of the City of New York § 16-106 says otherwise.”

The Appellate Division also noted that Supreme Court “improperly relied on an Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board [UIAB] finding, since the finding was not part of the administrative record but was simply attached [Silberzweig’s] reply memorandum of law in this Article 78 proceeding."

Further, said the court, a finding by the UIAB “lacks preclusive effect in a subsequent action or proceeding,” citing Labor Law §623[2] and Matter of Strong v New York City Dept. of Educ., 62 AD3d 592 [2009], leave to appeal denied 14 NY3d 704.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2010/2010_06709.htm
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The doctrine of res judicata held to bar litigation of employee’s challenge to termination in federal court follow dismissal of State lawsuit

The doctrine of res judicata held to bar litigation of employee’s challenge to termination in federal court follow dismissal of State lawsuit
Sheffield v Sheriff of the Rockland County Sheriffs Department, 08-0840-cv (2nd Cir. 9-22-2010)

Malinda Sheffield was terminated from her employment following a disciplinary proceeding in which the arbitrator found that Sheffield had filed a false workers’ compensation claim and recommended her dismissal.

Sheffield than filed a lawsuit in State Supreme Court alleging that the disciplinary action taken against her was “retaliatory.” She also alleged that the action constituted libel and violated her rights under Title VII. The court dismissed her petition in its entirety.

Prior to the Supreme Court’s issuing its decision, Sheffield filed a similar lawsuit in federal district court.

Following the dismissal of Sheffield’s petition by the federal district court, Sheffield filed an appeal with the Circuit Court of Appeals, contending that neither the doctrine of res judicata nor collateral estoppel applied with respect to her federal action.

The Circuit Court, applying New York State law, said that in New York “res judicata … bars successive litigation [of all claims] based upon the same transactions or series of connected transactions… if (1) there is a judgment on the merits … by a court of competent jurisdiction and (ii) the party against whom the doctrine is invoked was a party to the previous action….”

Considering the events underlying Sheffield’s federal action, the Circuit Court affirmed the district court’s dismissal of her complaint on the ground of res judicata and thus found it unnecessary to consider whether the doctrine of collateral estoppel would also bar her litigating her federal claims.

The Circuit Court’s decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.ca2.uscourts.gov/decisions/isysquery/c3b4afe8-5513-4998-88f3-9a6beb0bc6d3/13/doc/08-0840_so.pdf

IRS private letter ruling advises university’s that its tuition reduction plan available certain employees and their dependents is non-discriminatory

Tuition reduction plans

There may be State Constitution issues to be considered and resolved with respect to providing such a benefit to staff members of public universities and colleges in the SUNY system and their dependents. For example, would granting such a type of benefit constitute an unconstitutional gift of public monies within the meaning of Article VII, §8 of the State Constitution?

Article VII, §8.1, in pertinent part, provides: “The money of the state shall not be given or loaned to or in aid of any private corporation or association, or private undertaking; nor shall the credit of the state be given or loaned to or in aid of any individual, or public or private corporation or association, or private undertaking, but the foregoing provisions shall not apply to any fund or property now held or which may hereafter be held by the state for educational, mental health or mental retardation purposes.”

New York State courts have ruled on a number of cases involving claims that the challenged action constituted an unconstitutional gift of public monies or property including:

1. Gagliardo v Dinkins, 89 N.Y.2d 62. Here the Court of Appeals said that “... the constitutional prohibition on gifts of public funds is not necessarily subject to statutory definitions of terms or conditions of employment for purposes of governing labor-management relations between civil service employees and public or governmental employers under the Taylor Law.”

2. Garber v Board of Trustees of State Univ. of N.Y at Stony Brook, 38 AD3d 833. Garber contended that Stony Brook contract with a private developer for construction of a hotel on the SUNY Stony Brook campus was "illegal" and constituted an unconstitutional gift of State property. The Appellate Division held that "Supreme Court correctly determined, upon review of the documents submitted by the parties, that the proposed hotel construction proceeded in accordance with specific enabling legislation enacted by the Legislature" (see the Laws of 1986, Chapter 830 and the Laws of 1989, Chapter 200).

3. Rampello v. East Irondequoit Cent. School Dist. 236 A.D.2d 797. The Appellate Division found that prior to the employee’s retirement the school district had no obligation under its collective bargaining agreement with the Association of East Irondequoit Administrators to make cash payments for unused accumulated sick days upon an employee's retirement. Accordingly, as the Board did not authorize payment for sick days prior to their accumulation, "there was no legal obligation supporting the retirement incentive and the payment to the employee constituted an unconstitutional gift of public funds."

4. Matter of Mahon v Board of Educ., 171 NY 263. The Court of Appeals ruled that the granting of pension benefits to teachers who had retired before the establishment of a pension system was an unconstitutional gift of public funds.

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Ex parte communications by the hearing officer not permitted while he or she is preparing the final determination in an administrative proceeding

Ex parte communications by the hearing officer not permitted while he or she is preparing the final determination in an administrative proceeding
Meislahn v McCall, App. Div., Third Dept., 264 AD2d 957

The lesson of the Meislahn decision: a hearing officer may not have ex parte* dealings with litigants in an administrative hearing.

A Town of Clarkstown police officer, William Meislahn, filed an application for accidental disability retirement after he fell while at work and injured himself. A hearing was held by the Retirement System. Meislahn’s application was rejected on the ground that “[Meislahn] had not sustained an accident within the meaning of the Retirement and Social Security Law.” Meislahn appealed the ruling, claiming that his right to due process had been violated.

According to the Appellate Division, after the hearing ended the hearing officer sent her decision to the attorney for the Retirement System. She, however, did not send a copy to Meislahn’s attorney. The attorney for the Retirement System then drafted a proposed final determination based on the hearing officer’s decision and sent it to the hearing officer. The hearing officer signed it on behalf of Comptroller and returned it to the attorney for the Retirement System.

The Retirement System’s attorney then sent a copy of the Hearing Officer’s decision and the Comptroller’s determination as signed by the Hearing Officer to Meislahn’s attorney. Meislahn argued that such a procedure violated his right to administrative due process.

Referring to an earlier opinion, Le Pore v McCall, 262 AD2d 919, the Appellate Division said in Le Pore it had concluded that a similar procedure violated State Administrative Procedure Act Section 307(2) and “created such an appearance of impropriety and bias to warrant an annulment of the determination.”

In Le Pore the Appellate Division found that:

Upon the Hearing Officer's request, the Retirement System attorney drafted the findings of fact, conclusions of law and final determination in this matter and sent it back to the Hearing Officer, who then signed it for [Retirement System] on July 25, 1997 and returned the determination to the Retirement System's attorney. It was not until August 29, 1997 that the decision of the Hearing Officer and [Comptroller's] determination were first sent to [Le Pore's] attorney.

The court agreed with Le Pore that he was denied due process by the Hearing Officer's clear and flagrant violation of State Administrative Procedure Act Section 307(2), which prohibits ex parte communications.

As it did in La Pore, the Appellate Division remanded the matter to the Comptroller for a de novo determination based on the record.

* The term ex parte is used to describe situations in which only one of the parties in an action appears before a judge, an arbitrator or a hearing officer without the knowledge of the other party or parties to discuss the case. Such meetings or communications are prohibited to prevent influencing a judicial or quasi-judicial decision as a result of a one-sided or partisan point of view.
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Lawsuit challenging reassignment to another position rule moot because employee retired before trial

Lawsuit challenging reassignment to another position rule moot because employee retired before trial
Cannon v Watervliet, App. Div., Third Dept., 263 AD2d 920, Motion for leave to appeal denied, 94 NY2d 756

The City of Watervliet reassigned John Cannon from the position of investigator to the uniform patrol division. He was continued in his rank of sergeant. Typically the appointing authority has the right to reassign an employee to another position for which he or she is qualified without the individual’s consent.

Cannon sued, seeking to be reinstated as an investigator. Because Cannon had retired before his petition went to trial, Supreme Court dismissed his petition as moot. The Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s determination. It pointed out that a case that is moot may not be considered by the court unless it falls within the exception to the mootness doctrine:

1. A likelihood of repetition, either between the parties or among other members of the public;

2. A phenomenon typically evading review; and

3. A showing of significant or important questions not previously passed on, i.e., substantial and novel issues.”

The Appellate Division pointed out that Cannon’s retirement clearly rendered his petition moot inasmuch as the primary relief he requested, reinstatement to his former position of investigator, was no longer attainable. Significantly, the court noted that since Cannon retained the rank of sergeant, there is no indication that his salary or benefits were adversely affected.

Additionally, the Appellate Division rejected Cannon’s claim that he was forced to retire, stating that it found no evidence “that the reassignment forced [Cannon] into retirement, [since] there is no evidence of duress or coercion in this record from which we can conclude that his retirement was involuntary.”
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Refusing a light duty assignment

Refusing a light duty assignment
Korczyk v City of Albany, 264 AD2d 908

The Appellate Division’s ruling in the Korczyk case cautions that public employees injured in the line of duty may be required by their employer to accept light duty assignments if medically able to do so or risk losing their workers’ compensation benefits.

A similar result is mandated by Sections 207-a and 207-c of the General Municipal Law. These sections provide benefits to firefighters and police officers injured in the line of duty. Such benefits must be discontinued if the injured firefighter or police officer refuses to accept an appropriate light duty assignment for which he or she is found to be medically qualified.

The case involved Stephanie Korczyk, a mechanic’s helper for the City of Albany. In 1992, Korczyk injured her back while at work.

After initially paying her workers’ compensation benefits for about a year, the city sought to end the payment of such benefits on the theory that Korczyk had “voluntary withdrawn from the labor market.” Its explanation for how it reached that conclusion: Korczyk had refused to accept a light duty assignment it had offered to her.

According to Korczyk, she had discussed the city’s offer of a light duty assignment with her chiropractor, P. J. Leonard in April 1993 and Leonard told her that she was incapable of working the eight-hour day required by the assignment. She told the city that “she would return to work as soon as Leonard released her to do so.”

But, according to the decision, “Leonard testified that [Korczyk] was able to return to work to some degree in February 1993” and that “[h]is notes did not reflect, and he did not recollect, any discussion with Korczyk about an offer of a light-duty assignment in April 1993.”

Korczyk conceded that she did not ask Leonard whether she could return to work until she took a part-time job in December 1993 while attending college.

After “a full development of the record”, the Workers’ Compensation Board ruled that Korczyk’s refusal of the city’s offer of light-duty work constituted a voluntary withdrawal from the labor market and her workers’ compensation benefits were stopped. Korczyk appealed.

The basic issue: does a claimant’s failure to accept a light-duty assignment constitutes a voluntary withdrawal from the labor market? The Appellate Division said this was an issue for the Workers’ Compensation Board rather than the courts to resolve.

The court sustained the board’s finding that Korczyk voluntarily withdrew from the labor market by refusing a light-duty assignment some eight months before she took the part-time job, noting that the board’s finding was supported by substantial evidence.

Another point: it should be remembered that Section 71 of the Civil Service Law mandates that a public employee in the classified service who has been disabled as a result of an occupational injury or disease as defined in the Workers’ Compensation Law is entitled to leave without pay for at least one year unless the disability is “of such a nature as to permanently incapacitate” the individual for the performance of the duties of the position.

It is expected that the courts would view the right to Section 71 leave and the right to workers’ compensation benefits as independent rights and the loss of eligibility for one would not necessarily have an adverse impact on the individual’s right to the other.

In other words, even if an individual on Section 71 leave is “terminated” after one year of such absence, this action does not result in the automatic discontinuation of his or her workers’ compensation benefits. By the same token, the fact that an individual is declared ineligible for workers’ compensation benefits would not automatically mean that his or her Section 71 leave status ends.

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If you are interested in learning more about General Municipal Law §207-a or §207-c disability benefits and procedures please click here:
http://section207.blogspot.com/2010/03/v-behaviorurldefaultvml-o.html

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A prisoner while assigned to a work crew is not an employee

A prisoner while assigned to a work crew is not an employee
Richel v Village of Angola, Fourth Dept., 265 AD2d 864

Joseph Richel, an inmate at the Gowanda Correctional Facility, was injured in a fall from a scaffold while assigned to a work crew that was spray-painting a building owned by the Village of Angola. He sued, contending that the Village created a dangerous condition by providing unsafe and inadequate equipment in violation of Section 240(1) of the Labor Law.

The Appellate Division, Fourth Department, rejected Richel’s theory, commenting that “[a]s an inmate, [Richel] was not an employee of the Village or the State of New York when he was injured, and thus he is not an employee subject to the protection of Labor Law Section 240(1).”
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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA) police officers alleged to have participated in a “double dipping” scheme

Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA) police officers alleged to have participated in a “double dipping” scheme
Source: Office of the State Comptroller

An audit report released on September 27, 2010 by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli's Division of State Government Accountability alleges that “Numerous Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA) police officers systematically abandoned their assigned duty posts to go to work at other jobs while being paid by the authority, a practice that was condoned and participated in by high-ranking officers.”

According to the report, 11 NFTA officers practiced “double dipping” over a three-year period by “cheating the public out of a full-day’s work.” In what the report termed an “egregious” example, one NFTA officer claimed he worked 26 hours during a single day.

Division of State Government Accountability auditors found that NFTA officers worked for other employers “while being signed in for their regular scheduled shifts with the Transportation Authority.” Some of the officers, said the auditors, “signed in for overtime” with the Authority while “on the clock as security officers” with another Erie County agency.

NFTA officials were advised that the Division of State Government Accountability referred its findings to the "Office of the State Comptroller’s Division of Investigations for referral to law enforcement for possible criminal prosecution."

The Comptroller’s retirement division is following up on the audit’s findings to make certain that the officers involved “only receive credit for the service and earnings to which they are entitled.”

The Division of State Government Accountability's complete audit [Report 2010-S-26] is posted on the Internet at http://www.osc.state.ny.us/audits/allaudits/093010/10s26.pdf and includes a letter dated September 13, 2010 describing a number "enhanced internal controls" that NFTA has implemented.

N.B. The Comptroller encourages the public to help fight against fraud and abuse. Allegations of fraud, corruption and abuse of taxpayer money may be reported by calling the toll-free fraud hotline at 1-888-672-4555; filing a complaint online at investigations@osc.state.ny.us , or mailing a complaint to: Office of the State Comptroller Investigations Unit, 110 State Street, 14th floor, Albany, NY 12236.
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CPLR Article 75 petitioner has the burden of demonstrating the arbitrator’s alleged misconduct, bias, excess of power, or procedural defects

CPLR Article 75 petitioner has the burden of demonstrating the arbitrator’s alleged misconduct, bias, excess of power, or procedural defects
Matter of Blythe v New York City Bd./Dept. of Educ. 2010 NY Slip Op 32592(U) September 20, 2010, Sup Ct, NY County, Judge Cynthia S. Kern [Not selected for publication in the Official Reports]

Kathryn Blythe, a New York City schoolteacher, filed a petition pursuant to Article 75 of the Civil Practice Law and Rules [CPLR] seeking to vacate the opinion and award issued pursuant to Education Law 3020-a by Hearing Officer Arthur Riegel, Esq. The hearing officer had found Blythe guilty of certain charges filed against her* and imposed the penalty of suspension without pay until the end of the 2010-2011 school year.

Blythe argued that Riegel’s award should be vacated on the basis that he committed misconduct, bias and fraud.

Judge Kern, noting that Education Law §3020-a(5) provides that judicial review of a hearing officer’s findings must be conducted pursuant to CPLR 7511, said that such an award may be vacated only upon a showing of "misconduct, bias, excess of power or procedural defects," citing Lackow v Dept. of Education of the City of New York, 51 A.D.3d 563.

Here, said the court, “judicial scrutiny is stricter than that for a determination rendered where the parties have submitted to voluntary arbitration. The determination must be in accord with due process and supported by adequate evidence, and must also be rational and satisfy the arbitrary and capricious standards of CPLR Article 78. The party challenging an arbitration determination has the burden of showing its invalidity.”

Holding that Blythe failed to provide any evidence demonstrating misconduct, bias, the exercise of "excess of power," or procedural defects, Judge Kern ruled that “Hearing Officer Riegel’s decision was rational and supported by adequate evidence.”

As to Blythe’s complaint that her due process rights were violated because the New York City Board of Education did not vote on the charges filed against her, Judge Kern ruled that her argument was “without merit” as “Education Law §2590-f( l)(c) … applicable only to the New York City school district … specifically grants community superintendents authority to appoint and discharge all employees.”

Denying Blythe’s request for relief under CPLR Article 75, Judge Kern dismissed Blythe’s petition “in its entirety.”

* Judge Kern said that "Hearing Officer Riegel based his penalty on his finding, after fully considering all of the evidence and arguments presented, that petitioner was excessively absent, had left her students unsupervised in the hallway and in the classroom and had violated Chancellor’s regulation A420 against corporal punishment" but had dismissed all other charges that had been filed against her.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/pdfs/2010/2010_32592.pdf
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Tape recording public meetings

Tape recording public meetings
Schuldiner v City Univ. of NY, NYS Sup. Ct., Index No. 8236/98, [Not selected for publication in the Official Reports; referred to in Perez v City University of New York, 195 Misc.2d 16]

Sometime an individual may appear at a public hearing, tape recorder in hand. May an entity subject to the Open Meetings Law prohibit observers from tape-recording a public meeting conducted by the entity?

This was one of the questions raised by Schuldiner after the College of Staten Island Association voted to prohibit observers from tape-recording two of its meetings. Barred from tape-recording at both public meetings held by the Association, Schuldiner sued.

New York State Supreme Court Justice Peter P. Cusick, citing Smith v. City University of New York, 92 NY2d 707, first pointed out that the Association was a “public body” as defined by Section 102(2) of the Public Officers Law and an “agency” as defined by Section 86(3) of that law.* Accordingly, it was subject to both the Open Meetings Law and the Freedom of Information Law.

Considering the Court of Appeals’ conclusion that an entity such as the College of Staten Island Association was a “public body” within the meaning of the Open Meetings Law, Justice Cusick decided that the Association’s blanket prohibition against the use of audio tape recordings of its public meetings violated the public policy embodied in the Public Officers Law.

Citing Mitchell v. Board of Education, 113 AD2d 924, as authority for his determination, Justice Cusick said that the Association’s votes to bar tape recordings of its February 25, 1998 and March 11, 1998 meetings also violated the State’s Open Meetings Law and declared them to be void.

Schuldiner also won an order preventing the Association from prohibiting the use of hand-held tape recorders by persons attending future meetings of the Association.

Holding that the Association’s reliance on the First Department’s ruling in Smith in 1998 to the effect that such an association was not a “public entity” as authority to bar the tape recording of its meetings was reasonable as the Court of Appeals had not yet ruled on the issue, Justice Cusick rejected Schuldiner’s request for attorney fees and costs pursuant to Public Officers Law Section 89(4)(c).

* In Smith, the Court of Appeals, reversing a 1998 ruling by the Appellate Division, First Department, held that college associations such as the College of Staten Island Association were public bodies and thus subject to the Open Meetings Law.
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Use of video tapes in evaluating disability claims

Use of video tapes in evaluating disability claims
Aprea v Sonn, NYS Supreme Court [Not selected for publication in the Official Reports]

If an employer suspects that an individual receiving Workers’ Compensation benefits or benefits pursuant to Section 207-a or Section 207-c of the General Municipal Law is malingering, it may decide to arrange for the surveillance of the individual and make video tapes of the individual’s activities. In the Aprea case, the court addresses the question of the right of the individual to see the video tape.

John F. Aprea sued a number of doctors. The physicians had arranged for “a videotaped surveillance” of Aprea and wanted to depose [question under oath] him before providing him with a copy of the tape. Aprea, on the other hand, demanded that he be allowed to view the tape before being deposed. The doctors contended that was necessary to question Aprea before he viewed the video tape because it showed him performing physical activities that are “inconsistent with his claims of disability.”

State Supreme Court Justice Janice Bowman pointed to a case dealing with this exact issue, DiMichel v. South Buffalo Railroad Company, 80 NY2d 184. In DiMichel, Justice Bowman said, the Court of Appeals “recognized that an order delaying discovery of films until after the plaintiff has given a deposition minimizes the potential for tailored testimony.”

Justice Bowman also observed that “subsequent to the DiMichel decision, and seemingly in response to it, the legislature amended CPLR Section 3101 by adding subdivision (1) requiring “full disclosure of any films, photographs, video tapes or audio tapes, including transcripts or memoranda thereof, ... involving the plaintiff ... [and although] silent as to the time frame in which such disclosure is required ... [did not] seek to overrule the Court of Appeals decision in DiMichel.”

Aprea was directed to submit to a further deposition before he would be allowed to view the video tapes. After being deposed, said the court, he would be entitled to view all of the surveillance films during the surveillance.
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Do teachers have a "one-slap" rule?

Do teachers have a "one-slap" rule?
Source: ICEUFT Blog [ http://iceuftblog.blogspot.com/ ]

Termination reversals after 3020-a hearings are extremely rare, but given the right circumstances and a "hanging" arbitrator and you just might get your case reversed. So is the case of Beverly Riley.

On September 21, 2006, Riley, a fifteen year elementary school teacher at P.S. 28, allegedly approached a nine-year old student who was in the hallway after school. As she approached the child, who was waiting for her family to pick her up, Riley allegedly grabbed the girl, pulled her to the wall and slapped her on the left side of the face.

The incident was reported to the principal, OSI investigated and Riley was charged with corporeal punishment. A second charge of corporal punishment was preferred against Riley for an incident allegedly occurring against another student on October 4, 2006.

After a five day hearing the arbitrator dismissed the October 4, 2006 incident but sustained the first incident and imposed the penalty of termination. In his finding the arbitrator noted Riley's fifteen year unblemished record but found it insignificant due to the devastating impact on the child.

The arbitrator wrote "even one proven incident of corporal punishment can have a devastating impact on the involved student, and justifies the imposition of severe discipline. . .[s]tudents and parents need to know that the Department will not tolerate teachers using physical force to discipline students, even where the incident of corporal punishment was isolated and the only bruise was 'on the inside'."

On appeal Justice Saliann Scarpulla of New York Supreme Court found that the arbitrator had gone too far. One slap does not indicate the pattern of misconduct that deserves the most severe penalty. Besides, the child admitted she was not injured by the incident.

The Court ordered Riley be reinstated and the matter be sent to another arbitrator for a penalty consistent with the Court's decision.

A copy of the September 13, 2010 court decision is posted here here.

Summary posted by Jeff Kaufman.
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Removing an individual's name from the preferred list

Removing an individual's name from the preferred list
Donato v Plainview-Old Bethpage CSD, 264 AD2d 843

Removing a teacher from a preferred list always holds the potential for litigation. In the Donato case, the New York State Supreme Court ruled that Linda Donato could not sue the Plainview-Old Bethpage Central School District for removing her from a preferred list, only to be reversed by the Appellate Division.

The case illustrates that, as a general rule, it is the employer’s duty to canvass the preferred list when it wishes to fill a position for which the list must be used.

Donato was initially appointed as a social studies teacher by the district in 1966. She was given tenure as social studies chairperson effective September 1, 1984. In 1991 Donato was “excessed” [i.e., laid off] when the district abolished the chairperson position for budgetary reasons. Her name was placed on a preferred list for the title.

In accordance with former Section 2510(3)(a) of the Education Law, Donato’s name was to be certified from the preferred list for appointment to the same or a similar position for a period of seven years from the effective date of her layoff.

In September 1997, the district appointed Dorothy Wohl to the position of social studies department chairperson. Upon learning of Wohl’s appointment, Donato wrote to Superintendent Anthony Cavanna contending that she was entitled to reinstatement to the position to which Wohl had been appointed since she was on the preferred list.

In October 1997, the district wrote to Donato advising her that her request for reinstatement was denied. Donato sued Cavanna and the Board of Education by filing an Article 78 action in January 1998 seeking reinstatement and back salary. She also named Wohl as a necessary party in her petition.

The board and Cavanna asked the court to dismiss the proceeding on the ground that it was time-barred. They contended that Donato’s name had been removed from the preferred list in 1992 because of “her failure to apply for a vacant position” and her alleged failure to challenge, in a timely fashion, her removal from the preferred list. The Supreme Court agreed and dismissed Donato’s petition. But the Appellate Division reversed the lower court’s ruling and remanded the matter back to Supreme Court for further consideration.

The key factor: the Appellate Division found no evidence in the record that Donato’s name had been removed from the preferred list in 1992. Therefore, the court held, Donato had filed a timely challenge to the district’s refusal to appoint her to the position that became available in 1997. Donato’s claim “accrued in 1997 and not in 1992, [so] this proceeding is not time-barred.”

The court noted that the district had examined Donato’s preferred list status in 1994 during litigation involving a different vacancy. Examining the record of that case, the Appellate Division said the district had conceded that Donato “was preferentially eligible for reinstatement to her abolished position or a similar one.”

Here are some points to keep in mind regarding preferred lists:

1. Typically the most senior individual on the list may be “passed over” or, under certain circumstances, have his or her name removed from the list, only if he or she actually declines the appointment.

2. The name of an individual may not be removed from a preferred list if he or she merely declines appointment to a different position for which certification of the preferred list was not mandated or deemed appropriate.

3. The individual is not required to seek information concerning the existence of any vacancy for which he or she could be certified.

4. While an appointing authority is not required to fill a vacant position, if it elects to do so, it must use the appropriate preferred list if one exists. (Under certain circumstances, a public employer may be required to use other types of “preferred lists” such as a “special military list.”)

5. If an individual accepts other employment, his or her name is to remain on the preferred list until it may otherwise be lawfully removed. For example:

An individual is laid off from Position A and subsequently accepts a position “to a lower rank position” for which the preferred list was certified. The following year the employer reestablishes Position A. Assuming that the individual who was laid off from Position A is eligible for certification from the preferred list and that he or she is the most senior person on the list, he or she must be appointed to the newly created position or the position must remain vacant.

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If you are interested in learning more about layoff procedures involving employees in the public service in New York State please click here: http://nylayoff.blogspot.com/
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Representation and indemnification of public officers and employees sued in connection with official duties

Representation and indemnification of public officers and employees sued in connection with official duties
Tarrant v Schenectady Police Dept., Supreme Court, [Not selected for publication in the Official Reports, see, also, Tarrant v. City of Schenectady, 279 AD2d 870]

A public officer’s or employee’s right to “employer provided” representation and indemnification in the event he or she is sued and held liable in connection with the performance of official duties is an important one.

The Tarrant case illustrates the fact that where the employer declines to provide for such representation or indemnification, the individual must act promptly, and correctly, if he or she wishes to challenge the employer’s decision.

On February 17, 1999, Pamela Tarrant, an Afro-American, initiated a lawsuit against the City of Schenectady, its police department and police officer John Lewis for alleged violations of her civil rights. This particular aspect of the litigation concerns Lewis’ claim that the City is required to pay for his defense.

In the course of Tarrant’s action, Lewis contended that the City “failed to follow a procedure set forth in a Collective Bargaining Agreement” providing for this benefit. The City, on the other hand, argued that the Agreement did not apply in Lewis’ case because:

1. Lewis had been terminated from his position effective November 13, 1998; and

2. “The words and conduct of Lewis which purportedly gave rise to Ms. Tarrant’s action at law were outside the scope of Officer Lewis’ duties and were, therefore, not subject to defense under the Collective Bargaining Agreement.”

State Supreme Court Justice Robert E. Lynch did not have the opportunity to consider these important issues, however. Why? According to the ruling, the court did not have jurisdiction to consider Lewis’ petition since it was filed in connection with “a separate legal action ... initiated by Ms. Tarrant.”

Although the Taylor Law agreement clearly allowed Lewis to challenge the refusal of the City to provide for his defense “by an Article 78” action, he was required to initiate such a challenge in a timely fashion.

To do this he was required to take a number of steps including “purchasing an index number ... filing a Notice of Petition or an Order to Show Cause, along with a Verified Petition ... and serving the City” with the complaint. He failed to do this, despite being advised by the City’s Corporation Counsel, Michael Brockbank, that he was required to do so if he wished to challenge the City’s determination.

Another problem for Lewis concerned the fact that he did not file an “Answer” to Tarrant’s complaint within the 30-day period allowed for this purpose. This, said Justice Lynch, meant that Lewis was in “default” and the “affirmative relief” he was seeking as part of Tarrant’s lawsuit “is clearly not countenanced under New York Law.”*

It seems clear that in the event a public employer rejects a demand for representation or indemnification when a individual is sued in connection with some act or omission he or she claims is work related, it would be in the best interests of the individual to obtain the services of a private attorney immediately for purpose of representation in the litigation to avoid default. While the individual may later elect to challenge the employer’s decision, his or her interests would, in the meantime, be represented in the action.

In many instances the representation and indemnification provisions of Section 18 of the Public Officers Law apply. A municipality may refuse to provide for Section 18 representation or indemnification if its attorney determines that the individual was not action within the scope of his or her public employment or duties or where the alleged injury or damage resulted from “intentional wrongdoing or recklessness” on the part of the individual. The individual is required to [1] provide the employer with the “legal papers” within 10 days of after being served and [2] provide “full cooperation” in connection with its defense of the action.

* In another action brought against a Schenectady police officer, DiSorbo v Pederson, DiSorbo filed a “default judgment against Pederson” because he failed to answer allegations of “illegal arrest and harassment” then pending in federal district court. The City earlier advised Pederson that it would not provide for his defense or indemnification because he was “uncooperative when questioned about the case.”
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Signing an agreement "not to sue" at the time of resignation enforceable unless found to be coerced

Signing an agreement "not to sue" at the time of resignation enforceable unless found to be coerced
Sutherland v Town of Huntington, CA2, #98-9259

In exchange for certain benefits, Patricia Sutherland submitted her resignation and signed a “release agreement.” The release agreement provided that Sutherland would not sue the Town “with respect to, or arising out of [her] employment or the termination of employment.”

Sutherland subsequently decided to sue the Town. A federal district court judge, however, granted the Town’s motion for summary judgment “[b]ecause she signed a release barring litigation of these claims.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [NY] affirmed the lower court’s ruling. The court rejected Sutherland’s argument that her release should not bar her present action, holding that the release was enforceable as its language “unambiguously precludes the instant action in its entirety as all of [Sutherland’s present] claims relate to her treatment as an employee.” As a general rule, courts typically uphold such releases unless it can be shown that the individual was coerced into signing it.

On the issue of coercion, from time to time an appointing authority will offer an employee the opportunity to submit his or her resignation as the only alternative to being served with disciplinary charges.

New York courts have ruled that a resignation submitted in response to such a threat has not been coerced. Why? Because, say the courts, the appointing authority had a legal right, if not the duty, to file disciplinary action against the individual and threatening to exercising a legal right does not constitute coercion.

The leading case addressing this point is Rychlick v Coughlin, 63 NY2d 643. In Rychlick the Court of Appeals ruled that threatening to do what the appointing authority had a right to do -- i.e., file disciplinary charges against Rychlick -- did not constitute coercion so as to make the resignation involuntary.
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Monday, September 27, 2010

Providing volunteer with benefits deemed sufficient to trigger the Title VII protections available to employees and applicants

Providing volunteer with benefits deemed sufficient to trigger the Title VII protections available to employees and applicants
Pietras v Farmingville Fire District, 180 F.3d 468

Victoria Pietras failed the performance test required by the Farmingville Fire District. She sued, claiming the district’s test violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

A federal district court judge agreed, holding that Farmingville’s physical agility test [PAT], which all probationary volunteer firefighters were required to pass in order to become full-fledged volunteer firefighters, had a disparate impact on women.

The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s ruling.

According to the decision, as a probationary volunteer, Pietras was entitled to numerous firefighter benefits under state law and the by-laws of the department. These included: (1) a retirement pension, (2) life insurance, (3) death benefits, (4) disability insurance, and (5) some medical benefits.

Although not a paid employee, providing these benefits was deemed sufficient to trigger the Title VII protections available to employees and applicants for employment.

The district court directed Pietras’ reinstatement as a probationary firefighter and said Farmingville could “develop and administer a non-discriminatory PAT as a precondition to Pietras [and presumably all other applicants for volunteer firefighter] becoming a full-fledged volunteer member.” .
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Alleged CBA violation must be submitted to arbitration unless both prongs of the two-prong test governing arbitrability of disputes are satisfied

Alleged CBA violation must be submitted to arbitration unless both prongs of the two-prong test governing arbitrability of disputes are satisfied
Matter of County of Orange v Civil Serv. Employees Assn. Local 1000 AFSCME, 2010 NY Slip Op 51647(U), Decided on September 22, 2010, Judge Jeffrey A. Cohen, [Not selected for publication in the Official Reports]

CSEA Local 1000 filed a contract grievance contending that Orange County had violated the relevant collective bargaining agreement [CBA] with it replaced the armed security officer with an unarmed security officer at a County Department of Social Services ("DSS") office. The Orange County Commissioner of Personnel denied the grievance and CSEA demanded that its grievance be submitted to arbitration.

Rather than proceed to arbitration, the County filed a petition with Supreme Court it which it alleged:

1. The new security officer is not an employee of the County and is not therefore covered by the CBA.

2. Determining whether a security officer should be armed or not “is not a matter incorporated in the terms of the CBA and is ‘exclusively a matter of management discretion’".

3. The issue CSEA sought to arbitrate “is prohibited by the terms of the contract between the [County] and the independent security firm” and thus is not a “contractual CBA issue … subject to [the] grievance and arbitration procedures".

CSEA, on the other hand, argued that should the court determines that a valid contract exists, then the "scope of the matters which might be arbitrated there under" must be decided by an arbitrator.

Judge Cohen said that "Under the two-prong inquiry governing arbitrability of disputes, courts must ascertain whether the parties may arbitrate their dispute and, if so, whether they agreed to do so," citing In re New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benev. Ass'n, Inc. (New York State Dept. of Civil Service), 70 AD3d 240.”

Explaining that arbitration of the grievance is not prohibited by any statutory, constitutional or public policy rule of law, the County’s petition will not be granted based on the first prong of the analysis.

As to whether these parties agreed to arbitrate the matters contained in the Grievance, in determining whether or not a particular claim sought to be arbitrated lies within the scope of the parties' arbitration agreement, Judge Cohen said that case law holds that "the courts are not to engage in a penetrating analysis of the scope of the substantive provisions of a CBA"

Rejecting the County’s argument that its contract with the independent security firm prohibits arbitration, the court commented that while the CBA does not preclude the County from entering into other independent contracts, in doing so it cannot ignore its own contractual obligations under the CBA.*

Holding that the County “cannot absolve itself of its contractual obligations under the CBA” by entering into a subsequent agreement with another party containing incompatible terms, Judge Cohen dismissed the County’s petition and directed that the matter be submitted to arbitration.

* Judge Cohen said that “It is worth noting that the CBA was in existence long before the independent contract for security became effective. It is axiomatic that a party who enters into separate contracts with different parties must manage its contracts so that its obligations under its first contract are not impaired by its obligations under subsequent agreements.”

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2010/2010_51647.htm
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All about New York State’s Taylor Law

All about New York State’s Taylor Law
Summary of Taylor Law basics

Posted on the Internet is John M. Crotty’s Introduction to the Taylor Law.

Mr. Crotty, an attorney and arbitrator, explains the key elements of the Taylor Law and its application and administration, its history, collective bargaining under its provisions and a number of landmark PERB and court rulings interpreting its provision.

The text of this 29 page outline is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.nysdeputy.org/Archives,%20Wage%20Comparisons/Taylor%20Law%20Overview.pdf
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Concerning the duty of a public employer to defend and indemnify its employees being sued for alleged violations of an individual’s civil rights

Concerning the duty of a public employer to defend and indemnify its employees being sued for alleged violations of an individual’s civil rights
Schenectady PBA v City of Schenectady, [Not selected for publication in the Official Reports*]

Schenectady police officers were being sued in federal district court for alleged civil rights violations. Rebecca and Jessica DiSorbo were suing police officer Ronald Pederson; David Sampson was suing police officers Richard Barnett and Michael Siler.

Pederson, Barnett and Siler respectively asked the city to defend them in the federal actions and to indemnify them should they be held liable as provided by to Section 50-j(1) of the General Municipal Law [GML].

GML Section 50-j(1) provides that a municipality shall defend and indemnify a police officer if he or she is sued because of some act or omission “in the performance of his duties and within the scope of his employment.” GML Section 50-j(6) authorizes a municipality to provide for the reimbursement of “punitive damages” related to the officer’s “proper discharge of his duties and within the scope of his employment.”

The collective bargaining agreement between the PBA and the city sets out the procedural steps to be followed when a police officer submits his or her request for defense and indemnification pursuant to GML Sections 50-j(1) and 50-j(6).

The city’s corporation counsel interviewed Pederson and other witnesses and decided that “Pederson made material misrepresentations” concerning his conduct. As a result, the city rejected Pederson’s GML Section 50-j(1) application because of his “failure to cooperate in counsel’s investigation.”

The city declined to provide for the defense and indemnification of both Barnett and Siler after their personal attorney “refused to allow the officers to attend [indemnification interviews] absent an assurance ... that the attorney-client privilege would attach with the result that Counsel could not divulge the officers’ communications.” Counsel refused and the two officers failed to appear for their interview. This was deemed to be a “failure to cooperate.”

The PBA sued, seeking a court order directing the city to provide for the defense of the three officers in their respective lawsuits and to indemnify them if they are found liable for damages and attorney fees.

State Supreme Court Justice Vito C. Caruso decided that:

1. Under the terms of the Taylor Law agreement, willful misconduct within, as well as misconduct outside the scope of employment, would support the city’s rejection of a GML Section 50-j application.

2. Statements made by officers to the city’s attorney in the course of the “indemnification interview” are protected by the “attorney-client” privilege.

With respect to the applications submitted by Barnett and Siler, Justice Caruso directed the corporation counsel reconsider their applications taking into account “the distinction between defense and indemnification under GML Sections 50-j(1) and 50-j(6), and [to] set forth specific findings to support his conclusions as to both.”

The decision acknowledges that applying the “attorney-client privilege” could disqualify the corporation counsel from representing the city in a claim against both the officers and the city, but comments that any theoretical and practical difficulties are the result of the provisions of the collective bargaining agreement concerning the review of applications for defense and indemnification pursuant to GML Sections 50-j(1) and 50-j(6) negotiated by the parties.

As to Pederson, here the court found that although he appeared for the interview, the corporation counsel concluded that he had misrepresented the facts and thus “failed to cooperate.” However, the corporation counsel did not made any substantive determination as to whether Pederson was guilty of “willful misconduct ... within the scope of his employment.” Accordingly, rejecting Pederson’s application on the basis of “non-cooperation” was held to be arbitrary. The corporation counsel was directed to make a substantive determination concerning Pederson’s conduct based on his investigation and evaluation of the evidence.

* The decisions concerning the federal actions filed by Rebecca and Jessica DiSorbo, are posted on the Internet at:
http://www.lexisone.com/lx1/caselaw/freecaselaw?action=OCLGetCaseDetail&format=FULL&sourceID=gdig&searchTerm=ejEO.WGXa.aadi.YaYj&searchFlag=y&l1loc=FCLOW

Disciplinary probation may result in employee being summarily terminated without further hearing

Disciplinary probation may result in employee being summarily terminated without further hearing
Wilson v Bratton, 266 AD2d 140

An individual placed in “disciplinary probation” status is typically subject termination without any further hearing or due process procedures if he or she violates the term of the probation. The Wilson case illustrates this potential for being summarily dismissed.

Lynne Wilson, a New York City police officer, petitioner was placed on “dismissal probation” after she was found unfit for duty because she was intoxicated. Since joining the police force in 1980, she had accumulated a prior disciplinary record, which included the commission of an assault while on duty, two incidents of being out of residence while on sick report, and a pattern of chronic lateness.

Although she could have been terminated for the incident involving the intoxication, she was offered a one-year “dismissal probation status.” Wilson accepted and signed an agreement which provided that “[d]uring this period the Police Commissioner may impose the penalty of Dismissal at any time without further proceedings, pursuant to Administrative Code Section 14-115(d)”.

While on probation, Wilson’s commanding officer, Captain Jeffrey Mishula, filed five “command disciplines” against her.*

Wilson was warned that her that continued tardiness could lead to her dismissal. After she was late for a 10:00 a.m. appointment with the department’s Psychological Services Unit, Wilson compounded the problem by signing in as having arrived at 11:00 a.m. although she actually arrived at 11:14 a.m. As a result, Wilson was terminated without a hearing.

Wilson grieved, claiming that department had acted in bad faith because it agreed with Captain Mishula’s recommendation to terminate her without independently investigating the facts. The grievance referee sustained Wilson’s grievance. Subsequently a State Supreme Court justice confirmed the referee’s report, granted Wilson’s petition, and ordered the department to reinstate her with back pay. The Appellate Division unanimously reversed the lower court on the law and the facts, and dismissed the case. Among the problems in the decisions by the referee and the lower court pointed out by the Appellate Division were the following:

1. The court, in confirming the report, found it significant that no formal charges were served on Wilson before her summary termination;

2. The court and the referee “inexplicably ignored” Wilson’s admission that she was an hour late to the appointment, focusing instead on the disputed 14 minutes; and

3. The lower court improperly considered testimony from Wilson’s unemployment insurance hearing, which is not admissible in court proceedings, citing Labor Law Section 537[1] and Beacham v Brown, 215 AD2d 334.

The Appellate Division concluded that the lower court misread the record and noted that “[a]bsent bad faith, a municipal agency may summarily terminate a probationary employee for any reason.” Wilson acknowledged this when she signed the agreement to dismissal probation.

As to the merits of terminating an individual for lateness, the court pointed out that “[l]ateness is sufficient grounds to terminate a probationer’s employment, particularly where, as here, [Wilson’s] late arrival at [the Psychological Services Unit] was merely the last in a long series of such episodes.”

In the Wilson case the Appellate Division concluded that Wilson had agreed in writing that she could have been fired at any time without further proceedings and that having “failed to fulfill her responsibilities after being given numerous chances by [by the department], she has no basis to argue that she was terminated in bad faith.”

In contrast, a Suffolk County employee won reinstatement with full retroactive salary and contract benefits after a court found that he was improperly dismissed while serving a disciplinary probation [Taylor v Cass, 505 NY2d 929]. It seems that under the terms and conditions of the probation to which Taylor had agreed, the county could terminate him without any hearing if, in the opinion of his superior, his job performance was “adversely affected” by his “intoxication on the job” during the next six months.

Taylor, while subject to this probationary period, was terminated without a hearing for “failing to give a fair day’s work” and “sleeping during scheduled working hours.” He challenged his dismissal and won reinstatement with back salary. The Appellate Division decided that Taylor’s dismissal was improper because Taylor was not terminated for the sole reason specified in the settlement: intoxication on the job.

The lesson to be drawn from these rulings is that (1) the terms of a disciplinary probationary period must be fulfilled if the employee is to be continued in service; and (2) the employer may terminate the probationer without a hearing only if he or she fails to meet the conditions set out in the “disciplinary probation agreement.”

* Command disciplines are filed in the event an officer is late three times within a three-month period.

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If you are interested in learning more about disciplinary procedures involving public officers and employees, please click here: http://thedisciplinebook.blogspot.com/
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Employee seeks a hearing after being denied a promotion

Employee seeks a hearing after being denied a promotion
Wagner v NYC Transit Authority, 266 AD2d 304

The New York City Transit Authority [NYCTA] decided that Robert Wagner should not be promoted to the position of dispatcher because of his poor attendance record with the Authority. Wagner appealed and persuaded a State Supreme Court justice to direct the Authority to give him a hearing concerning the question of his promotion and make a new decision after the hearing was completed.

The Appellate Division reversed, noting that in contrast to NYCTA’s documentary evidence demonstrating that Wagner was not promoted because of his chronic absenteeism, Wagner did not present any evidence to “rebut or controvert” NYCTA’s proof.

The court said that Section 61 of the Civil Service Law gives the appointing authority “discretionary appointive power,” and a candidate for appointment or promotion does not acquire any protected property interest merely by reason of his placement on an eligible list. Accordingly, the decision of an appointing authority not to promote a particular individual “will not be disturbed as long as the determination is supported by a rational basis.” Finding that Wagner “merely alleged in conclusory fashion that the [authority’s] determination was arbitrary and improper,” the Appellate Division ruled that there was no basis for a “promotion hearing” and the Wagner’s petition should have been dismissed by the lower court.

However, Wagner also claimed that he was entitled to a hearing because NYCTA did not give him any written notice of his non-selection for the promotion required by Section 61.3 of the Civil Service Law.

Section 61.3 provides that when a candidate is selected, each candidate considered, but not selected, is to be advised of his or her “non-selection.”*

The Appellate Division said that the purpose of Section 61.3 is to provide individuals on an eligible list with information regarding their status in the civil service system so that they may make intelligent career choices. The opinion notes that neither Section 61.3 itself nor the failure of an appointing authority to comply with its provisions give an unsuccessful candidate a basis for challenging the selection decision made by the appointing authority. In contrast, a disappointed candidate may challenge his or her non-selection on the grounds that such non-selection is based on unlawful considerations by the appointing authority.

* Although Section 61.3, in pertinent part, states: “Persons on an eligible list … considered and not selected for appointment or promotion pursuant to this section shall, whenever another candidate is appointed or promoted, be given or sent written notice by the appointing authority of such non-selection …”, it does not require the appointing authority to provide the candidate with the reason or reasons why he or she was not selected for the appointment.
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Arbitrating a contract grievance

Arbitrating a contract grievance
Greenburgh 11 UFSD v Local 1532, 266 AD2d 213

The collective bargaining agreement between Local 1532 and Greenburgh 11 provided that after a teacher was late nine times for less than 20 minutes per lateness, the district would have a meeting with the employee and a union representative. A second meeting was to be held after the tenth such lateness.

Without holding any “lateness meetings” with the teachers or the Local, the district preferred Section 3020-a disciplinary charges against 15 teachers, alleging they were late on several occasions. The Local filed a contract grievance and demanded arbitration.

When Supreme Court refused to stay the contract grievance arbitration, the district appealed. The Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s ruling, stating that “[t]he question of the scope of the substantive provisions of the contract is itself a matter of contract interpretation and application, and hence it must be deemed a matter for resolution by the arbitrator.”
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Information contained in personnel record alleged to be defamatory

Information contained in personnel record alleged to be defamatory
Monroe v Schenectady County, 266 AD2d 792

Sometimes an employee will contend that information contained in his or her personnel files is derogatory. May the individual sue the agency if the information is made available to other governmental officials? Part of the Monroe case concerned the dissemination of information contained in a personnel file Monroe alleged was derogatory.

David Monroe, a Schenectady County corrections lieutenant, sued the sheriff and the county following his termination from his position of lieutenant. After a Federal court dismissed his complaint alleging a deprivation of due process under the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution, Monroe filed a lawsuit in State court.

According to the decision, Monroe was served with a written notice of discipline on July 15, 1994. He was charged with sexually harassing a Schenectady police officer and endangering “the security of the county jail by playing ping-pong and smoking.” The proposed penalty: dismissal.

Monroe, Monroe’s union representatives and department personnel met to discuss settlement of the disciplinary action. The proposed terms of the settlement: Monroe would accept a demotion to correction officer and the department would reinstatement him as a correction officer without retroactive pay or the restoration of any lost benefits. Monroe rejected the offer.

As described by the court, after he rejected the settlement, Monroe was told that if he should press for and win the disciplinary arbitration, charges alleging consorting with a prostitute, having sex with her and his being present when she purchased cocaine would be filed against him and this information would be revealed to the press. At this point Monroe decided to withdraw his disciplinary grievance and accepted the settlement offer, which he signed on January 6, 1995.

One of the issues in this rather complex litigation involved Monroe’s “ninth cause of action” which set out allegations of defamation. Monroe contended that the sheriff had defamed him when he stated that he intended “to pursue further disciplinary action against [Monroe] based on [Monroe’s] alleged connection with a prostitute” if Monroe refused to the settle the then pending disciplinary action.

According to Monroe, “the defamatory words were published by the sheriff to County officials and disseminated throughout the Sheriff’s Department by the placing of a note about the event in [Monroe’s] file.”

The Appellate Division dismissed this branch of Monroe’s action, ruling that “[i]t is obvious that the Sheriff was acting wholly within the scope of his duties (as alleged in [Monroe’s] complaint) in publishing the charges in a disciplinary action and thus was protected by an absolute privilege providing him immunity from a suit for defamation.
The court cited Mahoney v Temporary Commission of Investigation of New York, 165 AD2d 233, in support of its holding.
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Friday, September 24, 2010

Layoffs and Downsizing the State's workforce

Layoffs and Downsizing the State's workforce
Source: News media reports

On Thursday, September 23, 2010, Governor Paterson announced that in order to help solve the State's current financial crisis it will be necessary to layoff some 2,000 State employees.

Indicating that the proposed downsizing of the State's work force will begin in mid-November, the Governor said that a memorandum is being sent to the heads of State Departments and Agencies, signed jointly by Robert Megna, the State’s Budget Director and Mark Leinung, the Acting Director of State Operations, notifying them of the necessary reductions.*

The memorandum indicated that specific targets for staff reductions on an agency-by-agency basis would be distributed.

The actual number of incumbents to be laid off in a particular department or agency, however, could be reduced by its not filling vacancies resulting from retirements, resignations and other forms of “attrition” in its work force.

* The September 23, 2010 memorandum signed by Megna and Leinung, in pertinent part, states:

The ongoing economic and fiscal problems facing the State will require further cost saving actions. Despite our best efforts the State is falling short of its financial plan targets. The alternatives available to ensure we remain on a stable fiscal course are limited. Accordingly, we will need to take additional actions by the end of 2010 that will result in a reduction in the workforce by 2000 employees. You will be given the discretion to use layoffs as a part of this reduction in workforce....

Your budget examination unit will contact you with revised targets, and with further details on the process for submitting your proposed reductions.

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For information about layoff procedures involving employees in the public service in New York State please click here: http://nylayoff.blogspot.com/
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Employee terminated after testing positive for drug

Employee terminated after testing positive for drug
McGovern v Safir, App. Div. First Dept., 266 AD2d 94

New York City police officer John McGovern appealed his termination from the force after testing positive for marijuana.

McGovern had been selected for a random drug test. He did not dispute the fact that he had tested positive for marijuana but explained that his “ingestion of marijuana was unknowing and involuntary.” The deputy police commissioner rejected this excuse as incredible, resulting in McGovern’s dismissal.

The Appellate Division said that the positive drug test constitute substantial evidence supporting the determination that McGovern possessed and ingested marijuana. Further, the court said that under the circumstances, “[t]he penalty of dismissal does not shock our sense of fairness.”

In another disciplinary action involving a New York City police officer, the Appellate Division upheld the officer’s termination after he was found guilty of orally and physically assaulting, without provocation, a detective he thought was involved in undercover Internal Affairs investigations [McGaughey v Safir, App. Div., First Dept., 266 AD2d 100, motion for leave to appeal denied, 94 NY2d 760.
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The employee organization's duty of fair representation

The employee organization's duty of fair representation
Walsh v Rochester Teachers’ Asso. and the Rochester City School District, App. Div., 4th Dept., 266 AD2d 817

The lesson of the Walsh case is that if a unit member sues a union for its alleged violation of its duty of fair representation, s/he must name the specific individuals involved in, or whose actions constituted, the violation.

Timothy J. Walsh, a tenured social studies teacher said that he was induced to resign from his position effective June 26, 1997 because the Rochester City School District’s personnel director, Rebbeca Torres-Lynch told him that he would be transferred to an elementary school teaching position. Walsh also held tenure for the elementary teacher position.

The district, however, treated Walsh’s letter of resignation as a resignation from District employment and he was not given an elementary school teaching position in the following school year.

Walsh sued the district, the personnel director for “intentional misrepresentation” and the Rochester Teachers’ Association for violating its duty of “fair representation.” Considering Walsh’s allegations concerning the association, the Appellate Division said that Supreme Court was incorrect when it denied the association’s motion to dismiss Walsh’s complaint against it.

Walsh charged that while the association had provided him with “some assistance” in his efforts to “rescind” his resignation, it had violated its duty to represent him under the collective bargaining agreement. Walsh also alleged that all the defendants’ actions were “intentional and caused [him] to suffer emotional distress.”

However, he named only the association’s president, Adam Urbanski, as a defendant in his “official capacity” as president. In contrast, Walsh named the district’s personnel director as a defendant in both her official capacity and “individually”.

The Appellate Division said that Walsh’s “failure to allege that individual members of the [association] authorized or ratified the complained of conduct renders the amended complaint fatally defective as against the [association].”

In an earlier case involving the Rochester Teachers’ Association, Grahame v Rochester Teachers’ Associations, 262 AD2d 963, [motion for leave to appeal denied, 94 NY2d 796], the Appellate Division, Fourth Department, rejected the association’s motion to dismiss the complaint because Grahame did not allege that the individual members of association ratified the acts of their representative. The Grahame case, however, alleged the association was negligent in providing retirement information to a member, not that it breached its duty of fair representation to that member.

The Appellate Division also said that Supreme Court should have dismissed his petition as untimely. The court observed that “although Walsh may have had a reasonable belief that the association would represent him for some period of time after his last interaction with an association agent in late July 1997,” there was nothing in his complaint to support this belief through January 12, 1998, the last day on which he could file a timely cause of action for breach of the association’s duty of fair representation.
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Handbooks focusing on New York State and Municipal Public Personnel Law:

The Discipline Book, - a concise guide to disciplinary actions involving public employees in New York State. A 1900+ page e-book. For more information click on http://booklocker.com/books/5215.html

The Layoff, Preferred List and Reinstatement Manual - a 435 page handbook reviewing the relevant laws, rules and regulations, and selected court and administrative decisions. For more information click on http://booklocker.com/books/5216.html

A Reasonable Disciplinary Penalty Under the Circumstances - A 600+ page guide to penalties imposed on public employees in New York State found guilty of selected acts of misconduct. For more information, click on http://booklocker.com/books/7401.html

General Municipal Law§§ 207-a and 207-c - Disability Leave for fire, police and other public sector personnel - a 1098 page e-book focusing on administering General Municipal Law Sections 207-a/207-c and providing benefits thereunder. For more information click on http://booklocker.com/books/3916.html

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