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Friday, December 30, 2011

Failure to preserve “First Amendment” argument in the course of arbitration bars appeal on that ground

Failure to preserve “First Amendment” argument in the course of arbitration bars appeal on that ground
Matter of Adolphe v New York City Bd. of Educ., 2011 NY Slip Op 08203, Appellate Division, First Department
           
The Appellate Division ruled that Marsiste Adolphe improperly raised his First Amendment argument for the first time in his petition appealing an arbitration award before the court because he failed to preserve his First Amendment claim in the arbitration proceding. Further, said the court, were it to consider his First Amendment argument, “we would find it without merit.”

As to Adolphe’s claim that the hearing officer's decision was based on mistakes of law and a disregard of the evidence, the Appellate Division held that such an argument “is unavailing,” as these are not grounds for vacating an arbitration award set out in Article 75 of the CPLR.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

Concerning politically motivated termination

Concerning politically motivated termination
Martin Gordon, et al., v County of Rockland, 110 F.3d 886

Allegations that an employee was dismissed because of political affiliation -- or lack thereof -- has generated many lawsuits.

The Gordon case is instructive because it sets out the views of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which includes New York State, concerning the standards to be applied in determining if a politically motivated termination violates the constitutional rights of the individual. 

The case arose after Rockland County fired three Assistant County Attorneys -- S. Martin Gordon, Eric Ole Thorsen, and Joel J. Flick. Alleging that their terminations violated their First Amendment rights to political affiliation, the three sued in an effort to win reinstatement to their former positions. A U.S. District Court jury ruled in their favor and the County appealed.

The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found an error in the lower court's procedure and initiated a de novo review of the constitutionality of the dismissals. A review de novo is, in effect, "a new trial" of the matter.

The key issue was whether or not the Rockland County attorneys' were sufficiently non-political to entitle them to First Amendment protection from partisan political termination.

Courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, have ruled that certain policy-making and confidential employees are exempt from First Amendment protection and can be lawfully fired because of their political beliefs.

Two seminal cases on the legality of politically motivated dismissals are:

1. Elrod v Burns, 427 US 347. In Elrod the U.S. Supreme Court concluded that the politically motivated dismissals of employees in the Cook County (Illinois) Sheriff's Office was an unconstitutional interference with the employees' First Amendment freedoms of political belief and political association because the individuals terminated were not incumbents serving in "policymaking positions;" and

2. Branti v Finkel, 445 US 507. The high court said that the exemption allowing politically motivated dismissals extended to confidential employees as well as policymakers. But because Branti was neither a policymaker nor a confidential employee, he was entitled to First Amendment protection. The high court said that in evaluating whether it is permissible to dismiss an employee on the basis of political affiliation, "The focus ... should be not on the policymaking aspect of a plaintiff's employment, but rather on whether "party affiliation is an appropriate requirement" for effective job performance.

In the Rockland case, the Circuit Court of Appeals examined the nature of the attorneys' jobs and whether or not party affiliation was an appropriate requirement for job performance.

The Court considered whether its assessment of job duties should be based on the men's written job descriptions or the duties actually performed. Citing several supporting decisions, the Circuit Court said the assessment should be based on the power vested in the individual by law and the power that is inherent in the office. In other words, the job description is what counts in determining whether an employee has First Amendment protection against politically motivated dismissals.

Gordon specialized in real property law, and handled Sewer Commission affairs; Thorsen provided general legal services to the Highway Department and gave legal advice to the County's Planning and Parks Agencies; and Flick was an attorney in the Office of Community Development who advised municipal governments within the County as to whether their actions were in compliance with federal law.

The Court found all three positions encompassed serving as a legal advisor to a particular segment of county government, and representing the County in that capacity. This suggested they were policy-makers. The Court also analyzed whether the jobs were inherently political, using these questions as tests:

a. Is there rational connection between shared ideology and job performance?

b. Is the employee in an exempt position and thus not subject to "civil service protection" under Section 75 of the Civil Service Law? [The Court cautioned that it does not presume employees are not entitled to First Amendment protection just because they are exempt from civil service protection. Also, it should be remembered that Section 75 covers many public employees serving in exempt or noncompetitive class positions who are honorably discharged veterans who served in time of war or who are certified as "exempt volunteer firefighters."]

c. Does the individual exercise technical competence or expertise that permits them to make independent judgment on policy matters?

d. Does the individual control or supervise others?

e. Is the individual authorized to speak in the name of policymakers?

f. Is the individual is perceived as a policymaker by the public?

g. Does the individual influence government programs?

h. Does the individual have contact with elected officials?

i. Is the individual responsive to partisan politics and political leaders?

The Court said a factor supporting a ruling that the three were protected by the First Amendment was that each was not in charge of a large group of employees. But, the Court also noted, Gordon, Thorsen, and Flick all had technical competence or expertise and each was a consultant to a specific policymaking board. Also influencing the decision was the Court's view that "the Legislature, which has perhaps the best knowledge of the responsibilities involved in the positions it created, designated these positions both as 'policymaking' and as exempt from civil service status." Of primary importance to the Court in resolving the issue, however, the fact that each of the three attorneys was empowered to act and speak on behalf of a policymaker, especially an elected official.

Another aspect of the Rockland County case concerned the fact that the County Attorney was not elected but rather appointed by the Legislature, which is itself elected.

In the words of the Court, "all three plaintiffs advised the Legislature or Commissions set up by the Legislature or County Executive, both of which are elected." The Court concluded that each of the attorney's "advice to and representation of top policymaking officials in the County" justified their dismissal for political reasons.

Why? The Court said that "it is difficult to fathom how such responsibilities can be undertaken and done well without their "political or social philosophy [making] a difference in the implementation of programs."

Although the three attorneys contended that did not make policy, the Court concluded that this factor was outweighed by the evidence that they can act in the stead of the County Attorney. Further, the Court said that their claim that they "only gave legal advice" had been earlier rejected as justification for an employee coming within the Branti exception, citing the Third Circuit's ruling in Ness v Marshall, 660 F2d 517.

In Ness the Circuit Court decided that the positions of City Solicitor and Assistant City Solicitor were not protected by the First Amendment despite the solicitors' argument that they performed only "purely technical legal work." The Court said that the duties the solicitors could perform -- "rendering legal opinions, drafting ordinances, [and] negotiating contracts -- define a position for which party affiliation is an appropriate requirement."

A fair conclusion, according the Gordon ruling, is that these Assistant County Attorneys, "because of the discretion with which they are charged, and because of their authority to act on behalf of the County, are politically accountable to the Legislature and the County Executive such that their loyalty helps ensure that the mandate of the electorate is effectively carried out." The Court reversed the jury's decision in Gordon, Thorsen, and Flick favor, holding the three exempt from First Amendment protection against politically motivated dismissal.

Out of title work

Out of title work
Rausch v Pellegrini, Appellate Division, 237 A.D.2d 771
Muzzillo v Mt. Vernon Civil Service Commission, 238 A.D.2d 424
Muzzillo v Mt. Vernon City School District, 238 A.D.2d 425

From time to time an employee will complain that he or she is performing out-of-title work. Typically an individual who is working out-of-title, except in situations constituting a "temporary emergency," must be compensated at the appropriate salary or grade level or the out-of-title work assignment discontinued. The Rausch and Muzzillo cases involve allegations of out-of-title work.

The Rausch Case


To handle out-of-title work complaints expeditiously, the collective bargaining agreement between the State of New York and the Civil Service Employees Association includes a grievance procedure for resolving out-of-title work complaints.

Henry Rausch, an employee of the State Department of Correctional Services [DCS], complained that although he was being paid the salary of a Correctional Facility Food Administrator I [FFA I], as the result of a reorganization of DCS's food service system he was actually performing the duties of an FFA II. He filed an out-of-title work grievance, contending that he should be paid at the salary grade of the higher level position.

Rausch's grievance was ultimately rejected by the Governor's Office of Employee Relations on the grounds that his duties had been modified in connection with the reorganization of the food service operations in Correctional Services. He brought an Article 78 action challenging the administrative decision denying his grievance.

A State Supreme Court judge annulled the administrative determination, holding that Rausch had been required to perform out-of-title duties and the State, in turn, appealed.

Commenting that assignment of out-of-title work, other than on an emergency basis, is clearly prohibited by the Civil Service Law Section 61.2, the Appellate Division affirmed the lower court's ruling.

Section 61.2 provides that "no person shall be appointed, promoted or employed under any title not appropriate to the duties to be performed and, except upon assignment by proper authority during the continuance of a temporary emergency situation, no person shall be assigned to perform the duties of any position unless he has been duly appointed, promoted, transferred or reinstated to such position" in accordance with the Civil Service Law and the rules adopted thereunder.

Although the State contended that Rausch's duties had been modified and thus he could not be viewed as working out-of-title, the Appellate Division essentially found that Rausch was performing the duties that had been the responsibility of his former supervisor, a Correction Facility Food Administrator II, [FFA II].

The decision notes that while an FFA I is responsible for food service operations for an assigned shift, Rausch was made responsible for all food service operations at the Greene Correctional Facility, duties typically those of an FFA II, after his former supervisor was reassigned to another facility in 1991.

The Court concluded that the extension of Rausch's duties to encompass responsibility for the entire food service operation at the facility, i.e., responsibility for all food service on all shifts, seven days a week, constituted out-of-title work.


The Muzzillo Case

Muzzillo and three co-workers, employed as stenographers by the Mt. Vernon City School District, complained that they were performing out-of-title work. The Mt. Vernon Civil Service Commission agreed, ruling that the duties the four were assigned justified the reclassification of their respective positions to senior stenographer.

When the District declined to reclassify their respective positions, Muzzillo and her co-workers sued.

In one action Muzzillo sought a court order directing the District to comply with the Commission's determination and reclassify their positions to Senior Stenographer or, in the alternative, to desist from requiring them to perform out-of-title work. In a second action, Muzzillo attempted to obtain a court order compelling the Commission to "enforce its determination" regarding the reclassification of their respective positions.

The Appellate Division sustained lower court rulings dismissing the petitions in both actions.

As to their law suit against the District, the Appellate Division found that the School Board, by resolution, had directed the District "to cease and desist from using [the stenographers] to perform duties inappropriate to their title." This would appear to have provided appropriate redress concerning the issue of District's assigning "out-of-title work" to the stenographers.

However, even if the Board's action did not resolve the matter to the satisfaction of the four, the Appellate Division ruled that their complaint was properly dismissed by the lower court. The Appellate Division commented that the four had failed to exhaust their administrative remedy, noting that they had not "availed themselves of the grievance procedure set forth in their collective bargaining agreement."

As to the action brought against the Civil Service Commission, the Appellate Division ruled that the School Board had acted appropriately by adopting a resolution directing the District to refrain from having the four stenographers perform out-of-title work.

The Appellate Division said that Muzzillo failed to show that the Commission is under a legal duty to enforce compliance with its determination that the four were performing senior stenographer duties. In other words, the Commission did not have any obligation to require the District to reclassify the positions merely because it found that the incumbents had been assigned to perform out-of-title work.

Although the School Board could have elected to provide for such reclassification, the Court action signals its view that discontinuing the assignment of out-of-title work is an appropriate alternative to reclassification of the positions.

The Appellate Division commented that although the Commission had urged the Board to reclassify their positions to senior stenographer, it was not required to compel the District to do so. In this regard, the Commission could exercise its discretion as to the action it would take to resolve the matter. In other words, the Commission had no legal duty to compel the reclassification of the positions in question and the fact that the School Board had acted to bar future out-of-title work constituted an appropriate resolution of the complaint.

On another point, Muzzillo had cited Sections 100.1.a and 102.3 of the Civil Service Law in support of her efforts to have the Commission act. Section 100.1.a deals with the certification of payrolls and bars the payment of salary or compensation were the responsible commission determines that an individual has been employed in violation of law. Section 102.3 authorizes the appropriate commission to sue to enjoin "any violation of the Civil Service Law."

Assuming, without deciding, that these provisions are relevant in these cases, apparently the Appellate Division decided that the action by School Board to prohibit further out-of-title work by the stenographers resolved the underlying issues involved.

Public policy considerations affecting arbitration

Public policy considerations affecting arbitration
Sullivan County v Sullivan County Employees Asso., 235 A.D.2d 748

One of the issues in this appeal heard by the Appellate Division concerned Sullivan County's claim that the arbitration of a grievance as demanded by the Sullivan County Employees Association violated of "public policy considerations" and should be stayed.

The Association had demanded arbitration when the County denied a grievance based on the Association's claim that its action modifying a Taylor Law contract with another collective bargaining unit had triggered the "parity clause" in its agreement. The "parity clause" provided that if another bargaining unit negotiated a salary increase, those increases would be operative for employees covered by the agreement.

The Appellate Division said that to invoke a violation of public policy as justification for staying arbitration, "the violation must amount to the equivalent of a gross illegality." Although Sullivan County claimed that "parity clauses" were illegal, the Appellate Division noted that "such clauses are not per se invalid but require a case-by-case analysis."

The Courts indicated that the matter was not yet ripe for judicial consideration, commenting that if "the arbitrator's interpretation of the agreement may offend public policy, such a potential does not mandate a stay of arbitration." Rather, said the Court, if that turns out to be the case, the remedy is vacatur (reversal) of the award.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Law enforcement personnel may be prohibited from associating with persons suspected of illegal activities.

Law enforcement personnel may be prohibited from associating with persons suspected of illegal activities.
Matter of Matter of Hastings v City of Sherrill, 2011 NY Slip Op 09484, Appellate Division, Fourth Department

The City of Sherrill’s Chief of Police, James T. Hastings, was served with disciplinary charges pursuant to §75 of the Civil Service Law alleging that he was involved with "person(s) notoriously suspected of illegal activities … outside [the Chief’s] official duties." The Chief was found guilty of the charges and was terminated from his position.

The person suspected of “illegal activities” with whom the Chief was “involved” was the Chief’s 29-year-old son.

The Appellate Division, sustaining the City’s determination, ruled that the departmental regulations that the Chief was found to have violated “did not impermissibly interfere with his constitutionally protected right of intimate association.” Citing Morrisette v Dilworth, 59 NY2d 449, the court said that "[I]t is well established that it is within the State's power to regulate the conduct of its police officers even when that conduct involves the exercise of a constitutionally protected right."

The court also commented that “in light of the age of Chief’s son and the absence of any evidence that his son was mentally incapacitated, this case does not involve the constitutionally protected interest in custodial relationships between parents and their children.”

Other decisions in which a police officer was served with administrative disciplinary charges alleging he or she had  associated with persons alleged to have been engaged in criminal activities include Brinson v Safir, 255 AD2d 247, leave to appeal denied 93 NY2d 805; Richardson v Safir, 258 AD2d 328 and Delgado v Kerik, 294 A.D.2d 227.

The Hastings decision is posted on the Internet at:

Employer may recover tuition costs after teacher did not return from a paid sabbatical leave

Employer may recover tuition costs after teacher did not return from a paid sabbatical leave
Trumansburg Central School District v. Chalone¸ 87 A.D.2d 921

In the Trumansburg Central School District case the Appellate Division agreed that the District could recover the salary paid to an employee during a sabbatical leave when the employee failed to return as agreed.

In a similar situation, the State Comptroller ruled that a Village may adopt a resolution requiring employees who are sent to schools for specialized training at the Village’s expense in order to qualify for a promotion to reimburse the Village for the cost of such training if they resign within a specified period of time (Op. St. Comp. 82-4).           


Stopping the hearing creates a problem

Stopping the hearing creates a problem
Swanteson v. City School District of the City of New York, 88 A.D.2d 907

A person serving as a hearing officer may be tempted to terminate or “shorten” a hearing because one or more of the participants becomes unruly or abusive.

A hearing officer did stop the hearing before the employee had an opportunity to make a “statement” specifically permitted by the controlling rules of procedure because of “personal vituperation and ... abrasive behavior, despite repeated warnings.”

The hearing officer then sustained the employee’s unsatisfactory service rating, which was later affirmed by the Chancellor of the Board of Education.

Swanteson sued, arguing that the Board had failed to follow its own procedures.

The Appellate Division agreed and reversing a lower Court, holding that the failure to provide Swanteson with the “Review Format” was an abuse of the chairperson’s discretionary powers to make necessary “adjustments” in the format and insure an “expeditious and non-repetitious presentation ... denied (Swanteson) a substantial right.”

The matter was then sent back to the District with instructions that Swanteson “be given the opportunity to exercise his right to make a presentation and statement on his own behalf as provided in the Review Format.”

The termination of a hearing because of “disruptive behavior” apparently will not be considered a reasonable and proper exercise of discretion.

Tenured employee alleged to have violated the jurisdictions residence requirement is entitled to administrative due process prior to his or her dismissal from the position


Tenured employee alleged to have violated the jurisdictions residence requirement is entitled to administrative due process prior to his or her dismissal from the position
Matter of Tanner, 88 A.D.2d 661

An employee was absent for four months from her job. When she attempted to return, she was told her employment was terminated.

Two weeks later she was served with charges of misconduct pursuant to Section 75 of the Civil Service Law. No hearing was held, however, as the employee was notified she had violated a county ordinance which prohibited a county employee from residing outside the county.

Tanner was also told she was not entitled to a hearing on the question her violation of the residency requirement. When she sued the Appellate Division said that Nassau County was required to reinstate her to her former postion and, further, ordered the County to pay Tanner more than three years of back salary (less other earnings).

The Appellate Division explained that although a municipality may require employees to live within the boundaries of the jurisdiction (see, for example, Section 30, Public Officers Law), it may not, without a hearing pursuant to Section 75 of the Civil Service Law (or its contract equivalent), terminate a tenured employee who violates the residency requirement,

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A formal rule or regulation describing the alleged act of misconduct is not required in order to file disciplinary charges against an employee

A formal rule or regulation describing the alleged act of misconduct is not required in order to file disciplinary charges against an employee
Matter of Matter of Foster v Aurelius Fire District, 2011 NY Slip Op 09483, Appellate Division, Fourth Department

Kevin Foster commenced a CPLR Article 78 proceeding challenging the determination finding him guilty of misconduct based upon actions constituting insubordination and failure to follow the chain of command. The penalty imposed: suspension and then reinstatement subject to a probationary period.

When Supreme Court transferred, the Appellate Division addressed the merits of Foster’s arguments “in the interest of judicial economy.”*

As to the merits of the issues raised by Foster, the Appellate Division rejected his argument that the charge against him should have been dismissed because it failed to specify any rule, regulation, policy or bylaw that he violated.

Noting that Forster had conceded at the administrative hearing that he was aware of Fire District's policies with respect to the chain of command, the court said that record establishes that Foster “deliberately circumvented that chain of command to undermine the authority of his superior officer.”

Citing Murphy v County of Ulster, 218 AD2d 832, leave to appeal denied 87 NY2d 804, the Appellate Division held that under the facts of this case Foster’s contention that “a specific act or misdeed must be embodied in a formal rule or regulation before it may serve as a basis for disciplinary action is unavailing."

The court also rejected Foster’s claim that the penalty imposed, which includes suspension followed by a probationary period, is "so disproportionate to the offense as to

* The Appellate Division commented that as Foster did not raise a substantial evidence issue, Supreme Court erred in transferring the proceeding to it.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

Independent contractor denied retirement system credit


Independent contractor denied retirement system credit
Senapole v. Field, 88 A.D.2d 1012

The Town of Colonie designated a person to serve as “clerk of the works” for a Town building project. When he was denied retirement credit (he was a member of the Employees Retirement System in connection with previous State employment) he sued the Town.

The Appellate Division held that as the “owner’s representative” Senapole served as an independent contractor and therefore he was not an employee of the Town.

Noting that Senapole had no superior who supervised his work, reported to the Town Supervisor regarding the progress of the project, and that he was not on the Town’s payroll (Senapole was paid by “voucher”), the Court concluded that he was not an employee for the purposes of the Retirement and Social Security Law. 

Union gets employer's records under Freedom of Information Law


Union gets employer's records under Freedom of Information Law
Matter of Quirk v Evans, 116 Misc.2d 554

When the Office of Court Administration resisted a union demand for documents it wanted in connection with its challenge to job classifications, the Union sued.

Supreme Court said the Union had a right to the information it sought to obtain under the Freedom of Information Law.

OCA is not “a court” and its records are not automatically exempt from disclosure.

In the federal sector, the Federal Labor Relations Authority held that the Union had a “special status” as an employee representative and therefore is entitled to information normally outside the (federal) Freedom of Information Act (8 FLRA 108)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

An arbitrator’s power to issue an arbitration award is limited to those powers set out in the collective bargaining agreement

An arbitrator’s power to issue an arbitration award is limited to those powers set out in the collective bargaining agreement
Matter of Matter of County of Putnam v Putnam County Sheriff's Employees Assn., Inc., 2011 NY Slip Op 09320, Appellate Division, Second Department

In this CPLR Article 75 action the County asked Supreme Court to vacate an arbitration award. The Sheriff’s Employees Association, on the other hand, cross-petition the court to confirm the award. 

Supreme Court granted the County’s Petition and the Association appealed.

The Appellate Division said that “A court may vacate an arbitration award on the ground that the arbitrator exceeded his power only where the arbitrator's award violates a strong public policy, is irrational, or clearly exceeds a specifically enumerated limitation on the arbitrator's power.”

Here, said the Appellate Division, Supreme Court properly found that the arbitrator, in effect, “revised, modified, and altered the parties' agreement, which was specifically prohibited by the arbitrator's powers defined in the parties' collective bargaining agreement.”

Thus, ruled the court, Supreme Court properly granted the County’s petition to vacate the award and denied the Association’s cross motion to confirm the award.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2011/2011_09320.htm

A notice of claim served on a public entity must set out the basis for the claim sufficient for it to investigate the claim

A notice of claim served on a public entity must set out the basis for the claim sufficient for it to investigate the claim
Miller v City of New York, 2011 NY Slip Op 08495, Appellate Division, First Department

In cases where the conduct complained encompasses a New York City Department of Education’s employee’s scope of his or her public employment, a notice of claim in accordance with Education Law § 3813[2] and General Municipal Law § 50-i is required as a condition precedent to commencing an action against the employee of the New York City Department of Education [DOE].

In an action that, in effect, claimed a tortious interference with contractual rights, the Appellate Division that Adam Miller did, in fact, filed a notice of claim which described in detail the time, place and manner of the conduct by DOE’s employee that allegedly interfered with his tenure rights and continued employment with the DOE, as well as his ability to enter into employment with other schools.

Citing DeLeonibus v Scognamillo, 183 AD2d 697, the Appellate Division said that although Miller had not used the words "tortious interference with contract," a notice of claim does not have to set forth a precise legal theory of recovery.

All that is required is that the notice of claim described in “sufficient detail the time, place and manner of the occurrence and a plaintiff's damages to advise the City of the basis for the claim so as to provide it with an opportunity to investigate” the allegations.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:


Court sets Taylor Law arbitration guidelines


Court sets Taylor Law arbitration guidelines
Board of Education v. West Babylon Teachers’ Association, 52 NY2d 1002

The Court of Appeals has set a number of guidelines concerning arbitration under the Taylor Law.

In Board of Education v. West Babylon Teachers’ Association the court indicated that a stay of arbitration would not be granted where the arbitration would not violate strong public policy and the provisions of the collective bargaining agreement are sufficiently broad and unambiguous as to encompass the subject matter of the dispute.

A stay is appropriate only where the disputed issue falls outside the contract’s arbitration provision or where arbitration would violate public policy (i.e., tenure decisions) and it is for the arbitrator to interpret the substantive provisions of the agreement regarding arbitration.

The case involved the abolition of several positions and a driver education program.

PERB determinations

PERB determinations

     Police Union demand that employer match an employee’s purchase of U. S. Savings Bonds is a mandatory item of negotiations. Spring Valley PBA v. Village of Spring Valley, Case U-4856.

     Involuntary transfer of teacher to another school at the request of the principal following the denial of her grievance by the principal because the teacher complained to the principal’s superiors held to be a violation of the teacher’s statutory right to file a grievance. Elmira School District v. Benson, Case U-4426; 4427.

     BOCES could establish a layoff policy based on an employee’s qualifications and performance, with seniority used only as a tiebreaker. In the Matter of Nassau County BOCES, Case U-4441. (The employees involved were in the non-competitive class and not subject to Civil Service Law layoff provisions).

     Union’s refusal to sign a final agreement which reflected the provisions of the tentative agreement was improper and in violation of Section 209-a of the Civil Service Law. N.Y. State Nurses Association v. Onondaga County, Case U-4807.

     “Job security” is not a term and condition of employment and therefore not a mandatory subject of negotiations. Spencerport Transportation Authority v. PERB, Appellate Division, 4th Department, 1981.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The school board rather than an arbitrator makes ultimate decision regarding tenure

The school board rather than an arbitrator makes ultimate decision regarding tenure
Liverpool Faculty Association v. Liverpool Central School District, 52 N.Y.2d 1038

The New York State Court of Appeals has ruled that although the arbitrator had interpreted a collective bargaining agreement to limit the district superintendent’s power concerning tenure recommendations, the authority of the School Board to make the ultimate decision to grant or withhold tenure was not in any way impaired.

The decision of the arbitrator was not violative of public policy as set forth in Sections 2509, 2573, 3012 and 6212 of the Education Law according to the Court.

The award did not interfere with the decision-making powers of the School Board although it did require the District to retain the probationary teacher for an additional year so that her performance could be evaluated as provided in the contract.

The court noted that a different conclusion might result if the case involved a city having a population of 400,000 or more as the recommendations of a district superintendent regarding tenure in such a situation are binding on the School Board (Section 2573, Education Law).

A question of standing


A question of standing
Burke v. Bahou, 91 A.D.2d 705

When an employee brought suit contending that the determination of the State Civil Service Commission regarding a reclassification was arbitrary, the Appellate Division dismissed the action on the grounds that the Burke did not have standing to bring the suit because he was not the incumbent of the reclassified position.

The court indicated that only the employee occupying the reclassified position or the appointing authority concerned could challenge the determination, citing Section 120 of the Civil Service Law.

Provisional employee loses bid for permanent appointment

Provisional employee loses bid for permanent appointment
Haynes v. Chautauqua County, 55 NY2d 814

In Haynes the court held that reachable for appointment from the eligible list does not serve to give a provisional employee any right to selection for the permanent appointment.

Haynes had been removed from the position about a month following the certification of the list and had sued for reinstatement.

The decision indicated that Section 65.3 of the Civil Service Law permitted termination of a provisional within two months and contrasted the situation with that in Roulett v. Hempstead, 40 AD2d 611, where a provisional employee, eligible for permanent appointment, was retained in the absence of a three name eligible list in excess of the probationary period for the position.

The Court also noted that Haynes did not become a “probationary employee” by operation of law and could be removed without notice and hearing.

In contrast, the Court of Appeals reversed a lower court and held that a provisional employee does have a right to a permanent appointment. In LaSota v. Green, 53 NY2d 491 ruling that unlike Haynes, LaSota, a provisional for more than nine months and first on the eligible list, obtained a permanent appointment by operation of law when he was retained as a provisional after the establishment of the list. 

The distinction here was that in LaSota there was no mandatory list while in Haynes the list consisted of more than three candidates interested in the position. 

Accordingly, in LaSota the provisions of Civil Service Law Section 65.4 rather than 65.3, applied. 

Thus the LaSota determination, although extending Roulett [see 40 AD2d 611], is consistent the determination in Haynes. The Court took special note of the nine-month limitation on provisional appointments contained in Section 65.2 of the Civil Service Law.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Governor Cuomo and PBA of New York State announce tentative contract agreement

Governor Cuomo and PBA of New York State announce tentative contract agreement
Source: Office of the Governor

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and Manuel M. Vilar, President of the Police Benevolent Association of New York State, on December 23, 2011 announced a contract agreement between the state and the labor union representing New York State's University Police, Park Police, EnCon Officers and Forest Rangers.

The agreement resolves outstanding wage and contractual issues dating to 2005 and provides the officers with a retroactive wage increase adjustment, ensures protections against layoffs, and offers health benefits commensurate with other state bargaining units. The agreement provides for zero percent wage increases for 2011-2013, a 2% increase in 2014, 9 days of deficit reduction leave, and adjustments to the health insurance premium.


The Agency Law Enforcement Services Unit (ALES) is composed of University police, Park Police, EnCon Officers and Forest Rangers. They have not had a contract since 2005 and were in arbitration for the years 2005-2007.

Highlights of the tentative agreement, which will require ratification by the full PBANYS membership, include:

· Zero percent wage increases for 2011-2013, a 2% increase in 2014,

· A $1,000 retention bonus paid out $775 in the third year and $225 in the fourth year

· Deficit Reduction Leave of five days this fiscal year and four days next fiscal year

· Retroactive payments that are scheduled to be paid in two installments -- one this fiscal year and one next fiscal year before the end of the calendar year.

· Health insurance premium share increase by 6% for both individual and families, making the share 16% for individuals and 31% for family premiums.

· Random drug testing and drug testing for probationary employees in addition to reasonable suspicion testing.

· A labor/management committee to review all leave taken by officers, including annual, personal, sick, workers compensation, and the manner of such use. Recommendations will be made to the President of the Union and the GOER Director for implementation.

· A health plan opt out so officers can opt out through a spouse/partner to a non-State health plan. Under the opt out, participants would receive $1,000 individual/$3,000 family

· Officers will receive broad layoff protection. Workforce reductions due to management decisions to close or restructure facilities authorized by legislation, SAGE recommendations or material or unanticipated changes in the state's fiscal circumstances are not covered by this limitation.

Arbitrator’s disciplinary decision must be sustained by the court if there is a rational basis for, and sufficient evidence to support, the determination


Arbitrator’s disciplinary decision must be sustained by the court if there is a rational basis for, and sufficient evidence to support, the determination
Matter of Matter of Trupiano v Board of Educ. of E. Meadow Union Free School Dist., 2011 NY Slip Op 08601, Appellate Division, Second Department

The §3020-a hearing officer sustained a charge of misconduct against the teacher and directed the placement of a counseling memo in her personnel file as the penalty to be imposed.

The charges filed against the teacher followed her participation in a teachers' union action involving approximately 15 teachers who parked their cars along the street in front of the school just before the start of the school day. The Board alleged that this "resulted in children being dropped off in the middle of the street which resulted in an otherwise avoidable and unnecessary health and safety hazard."

In response to Article 75 petitions filed, respectively, by the teacher and the Board, Supreme Court granted the teacher’s petition to vacate the penalty portion of the hearing officers determination and denied the Board’s petition to vacate the award on the ground that the penalty imposed was too lenient. Supreme Court decided that the hearing officer's fact-findings did not support his finding of culpability, and thus, there was no rational basis for finding the teacher guilty of the disciplinary charges.

The Appellate Division modified the lower court’s ruling, explaining that where the parties are compelled to engage in arbitration by statute (see Education Law § 3020-a[5]), "judicial review under CPLR Article 75 is broad, requiring that the award be in accord with due process and supported by adequate evidence in the record." Accordingly, to be sustained, the arbitrator’s award "must have evidentiary support and cannot be arbitrary and capricious."

Here, the hearing officer concluded that the undisputed "arrangement of cars in which [the teacher] participated created a safety hazard. Many students . . . could not be dropped off at curbside. Instead, the cars had to stop in the middle of the road and students had to walk in the road to enter the school."

Under these circumstances, said the court, there was a rational basis for, and sufficient evidence to support, the hearing officer's conclusion that the petitioner was culpable of the charge preferred against her. Accordingly, “Supreme Court erred in granting the [teacher’s] petition to vacate the determination on the basis that it was arbitrary and capricious.

Further, the Appellate Division said that Supreme Court should not have denied the Board’s petition on the grounds that it was “moot” but, rather, should have denied it on the merits as the penalty imposed by the arbitrator, placing a counseling memo in the teacher’s personnel file was within the arbitrator's power and did not violate public policy.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

PERB determinations

PERB determinations


Use of automobiles

The Public Employment Relations Board has ruled that the use of automobiles is an item subject to mandatory negotiations. In a case involving the City of Buffalo (Case U-4473). PERB held that the City could not unilaterally restrict employees from using their automobiles in connection with their work as such action was a “unilateral discontinuation of a past practice.” Buffalo had stopped permitting certain employees to charge for the use of their car in connection with travel on the job and offered “bus fare” instead. In another case, PERB held that Nassau County could not stop its “past practice” of assigning certain workers County owned vehicles on a 24 hour basis without first negotiating the matter with the Union.


No smoking areas

The Steuben-Alleganay BOCES had designated certain areas as smoking areas for its employees, prohibiting smoking in other parts of the building. When the Union challenged the work rule, PERB affirmed a hearing officer’s ruling that the employer could not unilaterally restrict employees to smoking in specific areas of a building, as employee smoking is a mandatory item of negotiations under the Taylor Law (Case U-4259)

Two different complaints; two different forums


Two different complaints; two different forums
Gondola v. Center Moriches Union Free School District, 80 A.D.2d 600

When an employee attempted to maintain a complaint before the Division of Human Rights based on alleged discrimination and at the same time sue the employer for alleged breach of contract, the Supreme Court held that Section 297.9 of the Executive Law prohibited the employee from seeking relief on a single discriminatory grievance in two forums.

The Appellate Division reversed, pointing out that Section 296.9 “cannot be employed to bar an aggrieved person from maintaining a proceeding before the State Division of Human Rights based upon a discrimination complaint, while contemporaneously maintaining an action in the courts based on the alleged breach of an employment contract”, citing Matter of Richardson Employment Agency, 40 AD2d 585.

Pre-employment physical examination not employment


Pre-employment physical examination not employment
Rastaetter v. Charles S. Wilson Memorial Hospital, 436 N.Y.S.2d 47

An individual undergoing a required pre-employment physical examination is not to be considered an employee within the meaning of the Workers’ Compensation Law in the event the person is injured during the physical examination.

In Rastaetter the Appellate Division held that the principal factors to be considered in determining whether an employer-employee relationship exists under such law are the right to control, the method of payment, who furnishes the equipment, the right to discharge and the relative nature of the work.

The court then said “Clearly, these factors demonstrate that a pre-employment physical examination would not be covered by the Workers’ Compensation Law.”

The court also held that this was not a “try-out” situation, as the individual was not “trying out” for employment by working in any manner citing Matter of Smith, 4 AD2d 12 and Matter of Bode, 9 AD2d 969.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Court upholds appointing authority's rejection of hearing officer findings concerning employee's residence


Court upholds appointing authority's rejection of hearing officer findings concerning employee's residence
In the Matter of Linda Ziehm, 90 A.D.2d 677, Affd, 59 N.Y.2d 757

When the Commissioner of Administration rejected a hearing officer’s recommendation that an employee be reinstated to her position, the Union sued on behalf of the employee.

The case arose following the finding by the Commissioner that Ziehm (who was now living in Lackawanna) had forfeited her position by failing to maintain a permanent residence in the City of Buffalo (Buffalo City Ordinance, Chapter 1, Section 4,).

The question before the hearing officer was whether Ziehm came within the provisions of a Taylor Law contact which excused “any employees presently living outside the City” (adopted effective January 1, 1977) from the requirements of the Ordinance.

Although the hearing officer found that she was living outside the City on January 1, the Commissioner held that she was a resident of the City on that date. This determination made the contact provision inapplicable to her.

The Appellate Division concluded that the record contained substantial evidence affording a rational basis for the Commissioner’s finding that Ziehm was a City resident from 1973 until June 1979 and that she did not qualify for the exemption contained in the collective bargaining agreement and upheld his determination.

Do it now grieve it later rule applied in a challenge to an administrative decision


Do it now grieve it later rule applied in a challenge to an administrative decision
Hurwitz v. Regan , 90 A.D.2d 659, Motion for leave to appeal denied, 58 N.Y.2d 609

As a general rule in labor relations, when there is a supervisor/employee difference of opinion concerning an assignment, unless a dangerous situation exists, the employee should “do it now; grieve it later.”

Apparently the same rule will apply in connection with some administrative decisions as well.

When a former member of the New York State Employees’ Retirement System [ERS] was re-employed by a public employer, he sought to reinstate his former Tier I ERS membership.

ERS said no, explaining that he had cease to be a member of ERS in 1970 and had to rejoin as a Tier II member. He finally joined the System as a Tier II member in late 1975.

When the Retirement and Social Security Law was amended in 1977 (C. 973; L. 1977) to allow Tier II members who had been Tier I members who “rejoined within five years” to get back into Tier I, the employee again attempted to regain his Tier I membership. He, again, was refused by ERS and sued.

The Appellate Division noted that the employee had not rejoined ERS until more than five years had passed.

Had he filed a Tier II application in 1974 while contesting the ERS determination concerning the denial of his application for Tier I status, presumably he would have met the requirement of the 1977 amendment.

Probably it is best to do something “under protest” and argue about it later, especially when the consequences of inaction may cause even greater problems.

Court of Appeals rules on seniority for layoff


Court of Appeals rules on seniority for layoff
Hondzinski v. County of Erie, 57 NY2d 715

As more and more jurisdictions cut back in personnel, seniority for layoff purposes becomes a critical issue. The Court of Appeals recently decided a case involving the crediting of seniority upon the “grandfathering” of an employee into the competitive class.

The decision indicates that when a “civil” deputy sheriff position was, by local law, placed in the competitive class* an incumbent who had been in the position for more than one year proceeding the change in jurisdictional classification was entitled to seniority for layoff purposes from the date when the position was placed in the competitive class.

Hondzinski, however, had claimed that his seniority should run from the date of his original appointment as a civil deputy in 1960.

Actually there would be two dates for seniority for the purposes of layoff in this type of situation.

The “1973” date would control in determining seniority for the entire work force, thereby protecting the rights of all competitive class employees.

The original date of appointment of Hondzinski as a civil deputy could be used to determine seniority for the “grandfathered” deputy sheriffs “as among themselves.”

Section 45 of the Civil Service Law provides for such a dual test with respect to the employees of a private employer upon its acquisition by government.

 If a layoff affects a “1973 grandfathered” deputy sheriff, then a further determination as to the least senior of these “1973 deputies” based on their original date of appointment as civil deputies could be made for the purposes of determining which “1973 deputy” has greater rights “as among themselves” to retention in the face of a layoff. In effect, there would be a “seniority list” within a “seniority list.”

* So-called Flaherty deputy sheriffs -- civil deputies, as distinguished from "criminal deputies" --had been exempted from the civil service system on the grounds that the sheriff who had hired them was personally liable for any misconduct or negligence of his or her civil deputies. The term "Flaherty deputies" was applied to such employees of the sheriff following a decision by the Court of Appeals holding that the fact that the sheriff was personally liable for the acts of the civil deputies required their exemption from the civil service system of selection, appointment and promotion (Flaherty v Milliken, 193 NY 564). The New York State Civil Service Department decided that Flaherty no longer applied following a 1990 amendment to the State Constitution that deleted the words "The county shall never be made responsible for the acts of the sheriff." As the amendment allowed a county to assume liability for the acts of a sheriff's civil deputies, the department reasoned that where the county assumed such liability the rationale for the exemption of Flaherty deputies from the civil service law was no longer valid. Accordingly, it was determined that effective January 1, 1990, Civil Service examinations would be required for the appointment and promotion of these civil deputies.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Firefighter injured in an altercation with another firefighter during a New Year’s party at the firehouse denied accidental disability retirement benefits


Firefighter injured in an altercation with another firefighter during a New Year’s party at the firehouse denied accidental disability retirement benefits
Matter of Matter of Walsh v Scoppetta, 2011 NY Slip Op 09160, Court of Appeals

A New York City Fire Department firefighter got into a "loud and heated" argument with a fellow firefighter in the kitchen of the firehouse in the course of a New Year’s Eve party. Their dispute, as characterized by the Court of Appeals was ”fueled by the prohibited consumption of alcohol [and] escalated from mutual taunting and provocative insults to assault when the other firefighter hit Walsh over the head from behind with a metal chair, knocking him to the floor.”

Walsh was subsequently diagnosed with a postconcussional disorder, entailing "sensory nerve dysfunction on his face and leg, headaches, and memory, concentration and sleep disturbance" and the New York City Fire Commissioner ultimately filed an application for ordinary disability retirement* on his behalf. Walsh, however, filed an application for accidental disability retirement,** which provides greater benefits than ordinary disability retirement.

The Medical Board recommended that the New York City Fire Department Pension Fund’s Board of Trustees grant Walsh ordinary disability retirement benefits rather than accidental disability retirement benefits.

As the Board deadlocked on the question of approving Walsh’s application for accidental disability retirement, he was retired with ordinary disability retirement benefits.
 
Walsh then filed an Article 78 petition seeking to annul Board's denying him a line-of-duty accidental disability retirement. Supreme Court dismissed Walsh’s petition, which ruling was affirmed by the Appellate Division (see 73 AD3d 1192).

The Court of Appeals affirmed the lower courts’ rulings, explaining that “We may not set aside the Board of Trustees' denial of accidental retirement on the basis of a tie vote "[u]nless it can be determined as a matter of law on the record that the disability was the natural and proximate result of a service-related accident.”

Noting that Walsh’s injuries resulted solely from an altercation with a fellow firefighter rather than his performance of any job duties, the Court said that it need not consider and did not decide whether, or under what circumstances, injuries caused by the intentional act of a third party are accidental within the meaning of §13-353 of the New York City Administrative Code.

* §13-352 of the New York City Administrative Code, Retirement for ordinary disability, is posted on the Internet at:


** §13-353 of the New York City Administrative Code, Retirement for accident disability, is posted on the Internet at: http://codes.lp.findlaw.com/nycode/ADC/13/3/2/13-353

The decisions is posted on the Internet at:


Employee may not demand union proceed to arbitration as a matter of right

Employee may not demand union proceed to arbitration as a matter of right
Matter of Hoffman; Board of Education of the City of New York, 84 A.D.2d 840
 
Although it is generally held that only the Union or the Employer have the power to go to arbitration in connection with a contract grievance procedure, employees unhappy with their unions decision not to go to arbitration are now frequently turning to the courts for an order to permit their proceeding against the employer directly.

In Hoffman the Appellate Division ruled that the Union (in this instance the United Federation of Teachers) was not required to seek arbitration after having processed the employee’s grievance through the initial stages of the grievance procedure and received unfavorable results.

The court also said that if an employee wished to proceed directly against an employer when the Union refused to arbitrate, the employee would first have to show that the Union breached its duty of fair representation (i.e.: bad faith, arbitrariness or discriminatory conduct).

Here the employee had sought a benefit from an earlier arbitration award which gave relief for an “interrupted” sabbatical leave.  The employer refused to apply the arbitration award decision claiming that the employee’s application for the benefit was untimely. The Union had refused to arbitrate the question of timeliness after losing at all previous steps of the grievance procedure.

Union official’s advice to employee protected act


Union official’s advice to employee protected act
PERB Case U-5775

The union’s representative advised a co-worker not to answer questions concerning alleged violations of provisions of the “faculty handbook.”

The representative then received a letter, a copy of which was placed into his personnel file, indicating that the “instruction to the employee not to answer (the) question” was considered “insubordination ... and any recurrence ... would result in (a) recommendation ... that disciplinary action be taken.”

PERB ruled that the representative was engaged in a protected activity under the Taylor Law and directed the letter to be withdrawn and not considered for any purpose.

N.B. Although the Union’s representative’s right to give advice is protected, should the advice be incorrect, the employee who follows such advice may expose himself or herself to the risk of charges of misconduct or insubordination.

Retirement membership credit available only to employees


Retirement membership credit available only to employees
Sitrin v. Regan, 90 AD2d 583

Holding that she was an independent contractor and not an employee, the Appellate Division upheld the Employees’ Retirement System’s denial of certain (retroactive) membership service credit claimed by a member.

Citing a number of cases including Erwin v. Regan, 89 A.D.2d 753 [Affd. 58 N.Y.2d 722], the Court rejected Sitrin’s arguments noting that during the period for which membership was claimed she was paid by “voucher,” had no payroll deductions for retirement or social security, did not accrue vacation or sick leave credits and had conceded that the decisions she made were not subject to review.

This is another example of the strict standards applied by ERS in these cases, which standards have survived court tests.
         

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Former employee's alleged constructive discharge and continuing violation claims rejected as untimely

Former employee's alleged constructive discharge and continuing violation claims rejected as untimely
Thomas v City of Oneonta, 2011 NY Slip Op 08711, Appellate Division, Third Department

Andrew Thomas, while serving as a City of Oneonta police officer, reported various acts of alleged on-duty misconduct allegedly committed by certain of his fellow officers to his supervisor and then repeated these allegations to the Chief of Police. As a result of an investigation of the officer’s allegations three officers were placed on suspension.

Shortly after Thomas had reported the alleged misconduct he was assigned “to the 4:00 P.M. to midnight shift (instead of his usual day shift), his days off would switch from weekends to midweek and he would be assigned certain additional duties previously performed by one of the suspended officers”

Thomas subsequently told his superior officers that he was being harassed by the suspended officers, contended that he was being punished for reporting the alleged misconduct.

Thomas then resigned from this position with the City of Oneonta Police Department and some time later served a notice of claim on the City [see General Municipal Law §50-e] and then commenced a lawsuit against City pursuant to Civil Service Law §75-b alleging, among other things, that he was the victim of retaliatory personnel actions. The City’s answer contended that Thomas’ action was filed after the Statute of Limitations had expired.

The Appellate Division said that in order to maintain such an action as this, a plaintiff is required to serve a notice of claim upon defendant within 90 days after his or her underlying claims arose and, further, must commence his or her action "within one year after the alleged retaliatory personnel action[s]" took place.

Here, said the court, Thomas’ claim arose when his work schedule and the assignment of additional duties became effective on or about October 6, 2009, but he had not served his notice of claim until February 5, 2010 — well beyond the 90-day statute of limitations period. In addition, the Appellate Division noted that the action was not commenced until November 3, 2010, clearly beyond the controlling one-year statute of limitations.

As to Thomas’ “constructive discharge claim,” the Appellate Division, citing Clark v State of New York, 302 AD2d 942, ruled that that claim “is equally untimely, as such claim arose when he tendered his resignation on November 2, 2009  — the date upon which Thomas "severed his relationship with his former employer" rather that not the date upon which he deemed his resignation to be effective.”

Addressing Thomas’ claim of a “continuous violation,” the court held that the continuing violation doctrine does not operate to toll either of these statute of limitations periods. The Appellate Division explained that, the doctrine "may only be predicated on continuing unlawful acts and not on the continuing effects of earlier unlawful conduct."

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2011/2011_08711.htm

Denial of tenure alleged to have been based on the educator’s exercising her First Amendment rights to free speech

Denial of tenure alleged to have been based on the educator’s exercising her First Amendment rights to free speech
Nagle v Mamaroneck Union Free School District, et al, USCA, Second Circuit, Docket #10-1420-cv

Nancy L. Nagle sued the Mamaroneck Union Free School District and a number school district officials alleging that she had been denied tenure and subjected to retaliation because she had exercised her First Amendment rights to free speech.

Nagle complaint alleged that the decision not to recommend her for tenure was made in retaliation for two acts that, she argued, were protected by the First Amendment.

One act on which Nagle based her claim involved her reporting alleged acts of child abuse by another teacher to her principal, including her claim that she witnessed the teacher striking a child while she was employed as a special education teacher by a public school in the State of Virginia.*

The second act alleged by Nagle was that she had received a copy of a teaching observation report of her class written and signed an assistant principal but that she declined to sign the report. However, she alleged, she received a copy that “appeared to bear her signature.” Reporting the “seemingly false signature” to school officials and the president of the teacher’s union, the matter was referred to police. Although the police “determined that no crime had been committed, a separate handwriting experts were employed by Nagle and by the District. Both experts concluded that the assistant principal had signed Nagle’s name to the document.**

Essentially the federal district court ruled that [1] Nagle’s speech was not protected within the meaning of the First Amendment because it was “personal” and it was not a matter of public concern and [2] ruled that the school officials had a “qualified immunity” in that, as a general rule, unless the individual is able to demonstrate "publication" and prove "malice," courts usually dispose of such cases involving a public employer by applying the doctrine of "qualified immunity."***

The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit disagreed.

The court concluded that Nagle has made a prima facie showing that retaliation in violation of the First Amendment caused her to be denied tenure.

The Circuit Court said that although the School District’s rebuttal to Nagle’s prima facie case is subject to credibility, the issue of credibility cannot be resolved as a matter of law. Further, said the court, certain of the school administrators are not, “at this stage of the proceedings, entitled to qualified immunity.”

Accordingly, the Circuit Court vacated the district court’s order granting summary judgment and remanded the matter for further proceedings.

* According to the Circuit Court’s decision, the teacher alleged to have abused the students resigned, citing family reasons. . Nagle then reported what she had told school administrators to Virginia’s Department of Child Protective Services and to the Virginia state police. After a police investigation, the teacher was charged with several counts of felony child abuse; she eventually pled guilty to assault.

** The district “declined to renew” the assistant principal’s contract for the following year, and the assistant principal resigned

*** The Doctrine of Qualified Immunity protects public officials from being sued for damages unless it can be shown that they violated “clearly established” law of which a reasonable official in his position would have known. In contrast, the Doctrine of Absolute Immunity bars lawsuits against public officials based on their official acts or omissions without regard to motive. For example, a judge has complete protection from personal liability for exercising judicial functions.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

Settlement of grievance binds all unit employees


Settlement of grievance binds all unit employees
Decisions of the Commissioner of Education, Decision #10728

Former Section 3102 (6) of the Education Law (repealed in 1971) permitted School Boards to place newly employed teachers on the salary schedule reflecting prior teaching service.

In 1978 the Nanuet Teachers Association brought a grievance claiming the District had violated a contract provision by failing to properly calculate the length of service of teachers earlier granted “transfer credit.”

The grievance was “settled” in the course of arbitration. As a result 39 “otherwise eligible” teachers did not have their transfer credit counted in computing their eligibility for longevity increments.

The 39 educators appealed to the Commissioner of Education, contending claiming that the “settlement” was not binding upon them and, further, their employee organization did not fairly represent them.

The Commissioner rejected the appeal. He indicated that the 39 teachers, not having “opted out” were bound by the agreement. The employee organization had brought the grievance on their behalf (among others) and that part of the agreement (which provided the District would not reduce the number of teachers employed by the District) was to their benefit.

As to the argument that the agreement violated “unambiguous case law” regarding the recognition of transfer credit, the Commissioner ruled that teachers may waive their legal rights under situations such as this, and if done so on their behalf by the employee organization, it is binding upon them.

The expiration of the three-year term contemplated by the agreement did not alter the understanding reached as to transfer credit and the teachers could not now claim such credits as though the settlement had never been agreed to by the parties.

As a general rule, when an employee organization acts within its authority, all the persons it represents are bound by the results, unless individuals indicate, before the fact, that they do not intend to be bound by the results.

Taping of a negotiating session prohibited by PERB


Taping of a negotiating session prohibited by PERB
Matter of County of Niagara, Case U-5735

PERB, affirming its Hearing Officer’s decision, held even the presence of a tape recorder at a negotiating session is improper if a party objects.

Earlier decisions had indicated that it was improper for a party to insist on the recording (by mechanical means) of negotiations.

The decision extends the prohibition to the mere presence of a tape recorder if a party finds it objectionable.

Of course the parties remain free to take contemporaneous written notes of the “history of negotiations”, but presumably verbatim transcriptions would also raise concerns which could inhibit negotiations and be prohibited if a party objects.

Appeal results in a “permanent” reprimand

Appeal results in a “permanent” reprimand
Decisions of the Commissioner of Education, Decision 10933

A teacher was found guilty of insubordination (refusal to act as a chaperone at a school event) and the disciplinary panel imposed the “penalty of a reprimand, to be expunged from ... (the) records if for the next two years there are no further disciplinary problems of a similar nature.”

The school district appealed to the Commissioner of Education, arguing that the penalty was not authorized by Section 3020-a of the Education Law.

The Commissioner agreed. He found that the penalty to be imposed is limited to one of the penalties enumerated in the law but that a reprimand is one of the penalties authorized.

He then held that the disciplinary panel lacked the authority to direct the Board of Education to later expunge the reprimand from the teacher’s file for “good behavior.” [See Opinions of the Attorney General 81-28].

The Commissioner then exercised his authority to impose a penalty, and ruled that a reprimand would be appropriate under the circumstances.

Presumably the reprimand will remain a permanent part of the teacher’s file unless the Board chooses to later remove it.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Filing an appeal from an administrative decision in accordance with a grievance procedure does not toll the running of the statute of limitations for bringing an Article 78 action

Filing an appeal from an administrative decision in accordance with a grievance procedure does not toll the running of the statute of limitations for bringing an Article 78 action
Matter of Matter of Hazeltine v City of New York, 2011 NY Slip Op 08625, Appellate Division, First Department.

The Appellate Division, pointing out that an Article 78 petition challenging an administrative personnel decision with which the employee is unhappy must be brought within four months of the effective date of termination dismissed Hazeltine’s complaint noting that the time to commence such an Article 78 proceeding  “is not extended by the [individual’s] pursuit of administrative remedies.

Hazeltine had appealed the personnel decision to higher authority in accordance with the procedures providing for such challenges.

In this instance, said the court, Hazeltine’s cause of action accrued on August 24, 2007 and his petition was not filed until November 2, 2009, more than two years after his cause of action accrued.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

Fire District’s adverse impact on another protected class defense rejected

Fire District’s adverse impact on another protected class defense rejected
Source: Justia Reports: NAACP v North Hudson Reg’l Fire and Rescue, USCA, Third Circuit, Docket 10-3695

The municipalities that make up the fire protection district had populations that were 69.6% Hispanic, 22.9% white, and 3.4% African-American. In 2008, the district employed 302 firefighters: 240 whites, 58 Hispanics, and two African-Americans.

When this litigation began, the district sought to fill 35 to 40 new firefighter positions. Six Hispanic applicants earned passing scores on the firefighter exam and satisfied a residency requirement. Based on their scores they ranked 21, 25, 26, 45, 49, and 70 on the residents-only list. They would rank much lower if non-residents were included on the same list.

The NAACP successfully sued under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, claiming that the residency requirement was invalid as having a disparate impact on African-American applicants. The fire district and the Hispanic applicants appealed.

The Third Circuit affirmed, rejecting the district's claims of concerns about impact on Hispanic applicants.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://law.justia.com/cases/federal/appellate-courts/ca3/10-3965/103965p-2011-12-12.html

Restoration to eligible list a matter of discretion


Restoration to eligible list a matter of discretion
Lee v Director of Personnel [Not selected for publication in the Official Reports]

Does a person who is discharged for failure to satisfactorily complete the required probationary period have a right to be restored to the eligible list?

In Lee v Director of Personnel a Supreme Court judge said that according to the Rules of the City of New York, restoration to the eligible list was a discretionary determination by the Director of Personnel.

The decision indicated that the discharged employee would have to show that the decision not to restore his name to the eligible list was done in bad faith or that the refusal was arbitrary or capricious.

The court also commented that a probationary employee may be dismissed prior to the end of the probationary term without notice and hearing.

Concerning the employee organization’s duty to honor a unit member’s request to challenge an arbitration award


Concerning the employee organization’s duty to honor a unit member’s request to challenge an arbitration award
Albino v. the City of New York, 80 A.D.2d 261

A situation confronting public employee unions, and ultimately the employer, with increasing frequency is how far the union must go to meet its duty of providing those it represents with “fair representation.”

In Albino the Court provides a number of guidelines concerning this question.

The case arose when Albino was reassigned to a different work location after discussions with the Union. The reassignment was part of a reorganization of the Agency.

After the arbitrator ruled against the employee, the employee wanted the Union to appeal the award to the Court. The Union refused, indicating “that it appears that the arbitrator, in rendering a decision with which we do not agree, did not exceed his powers to interpret the terms of the agreement.”

The employee then attempted to sue the employer. The Court dismissed the case indicating that there was no evidence that there was any lack of fair representation by the Union.

Electronic books [e-books] 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 645 page e-book 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://nypplarchives.blogspot.com/

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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