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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Expulsion from a membership organization


Expulsion from a membership organization
Dormer v Suffolk County Police Benevolent Assn., Inc., 2012 NY Slip Op 03979, Appellate Division, Second Department

The then Police Commissioner of Suffolk County and the then Deputy Police Commissioner of Suffolk County sued the Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association, Inc., [PBA] and the Superior Officers Association of the Police Department of the County of Suffolk, [SOA] contending that their expulsions from these organizations was "illegal and improper."

Both the Commissioner and the Deputy Commission contended that they were expelled from the PBA and the SOA in retaliation for following official directives which required them to transfer responsibility for patrolling certain roadways on Long Island from the Suffolk County Police Department to the Office of the Sheriff, claiming that their expulsion had an adverse effect on them due to the loss of a life insurance policy. They sought a court order reinstating their membership “with full benefits.”

As their petitions were dismissed by Supreme Court as untimely, which ruling was affirmed by the Appellate Division, the merits of their claims were never addressed by the courts.

However, assuming, but not deciding, that the PBA and the SOA were recognized or certified for purposes of collective bargaining with the Suffolk County Police Department, as both the Commissioner and the Deputy Commissioner were expelled from their “membership” in the PBA and the SOA, presumably neither the Commissioner nor the Deputy Commissioner positions had been designated managerial or confidential within the meaning of §214 of the Civil Service Law [the Taylor Law].

§214 provides, in pertinent part, that “ No managerial or confidential employee, as determined pursuant to subdivision seven of section two hundred one of this article, shall hold office in or be a member of any employee organization which is or seeks to become pursuant to this article the certified or recognized representative of the public employees employed by the public employer of such managerial or confidential employee.”

§201.7(a) of the Civil Service Law provides, in pertinent part, that “The term ‘public employee’ means any person holding a position by appointment or employment in the service of a public employer, except that such term shall not include for the purposes of any provision of this article … persons who may reasonably be designated from time to time as managerial or confidential.”
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The decision is posted on the Internet at:

Filing exceptions to a PERB administrative law judge’s determination


Filing exceptions to a PERB administrative law judge’s determination
Matter of County of Ontario and Ontario County Sheriff [Joint employers] PERB decision U-30353

The Board rejected the Joint Employer’s contention that it had a right to file exceptions to an ALJ’s interim decision denying its motion to dismiss a charge, without the necessity of seeking leave to file exceptions from the Board pursuant to § 212.4(h) of the Rules of Procedure (Rules).

The Board reached its conclusion based upon well-established precedent requiring a party to seek permission to file exceptions from interim decisions and rulings pursuant to §212.4(h) of the Rules.

Nevertheless, the Board treated the Joint Employer’s pleading as a motion for leave to file exceptions and concluded that the Joint Employer failed to demonstrate extraordinary circumstances.

Pursuant to §205.5(d) of the Public Employees’ Fair Employment Act (Act), PERB has exclusive jurisdiction to determine whether an employer has engaged in an improper practice in violation of §209-a.1 of the Act. The fact that a notice of claim was served asserting an alternative motivational theory underlying the alleged retaliation did not deprive PERB of jurisdiction to hear the pending charge, nor did it constitute a waiver of jurisdiction.

The Board noted, however, that although the pursuit of ancillary litigation may not deprive of PERB of jurisdiction or constitute a waiver, the results of such litigation may, in certain circumstances, form the basis for a collateral estoppel defense to a charge pending at PERB. 

Practice Tip noted by PERB staff:

Practitioners are reminded that under Board precedent, motions for leave to file exceptions are very rarely granted due to the strict standard requiring a movant to demonstrate extraordinary circumstances. This high standard is applied by the Board based upon the view that it is far more efficient to await the final disposition of the merits of a charge before examining interim determinations and to avoid unnecessary delays in the processing of improper practice charges. 

NYPPL has added a link to Education News

NYPPL has added a link to Education News

The Internet web site EducationNews [ www.EducationNews.org ] is a leading news resource reporting on national and international educational, political, business, and environmental issues. Since 1997 EducationNews has provided relevant news on a daily basis.

The site is listed in the sidebar in NYPPL's listing of "Links to Other Useful Web Pages" as Education News - a global resource.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Willful failure to comply with a “discovery order” assumes an ability to comply


Willful failure to comply with a “discovery order” assumes an ability to comply
2012 NY Slip Op 03786, Appellate Division, First Department

One of the issues considered by the Appellate Division in this phase of this litigation was Supreme Court’s denial of a motion to “strike” the New York City Department of Education’s [DOE] answer based on the petitioner’s allegation that DOE had “failed to disclose” certain records she had demanded in the course of discovery.

The Appellate Division unanimously affirmed the Supreme Court’s ruling, explaining the petitioner had failed to "show conclusively that [the DOE’s] failure to disclose was willful, contumacious or due to bad faith."

The court noted that DOE was not in possession of certain records demanded that had been prepared by a former employee nor could DOE control whether the former employee “contacts them.”

In such cases the Appellate Division said the test as to a party's “willful failure to comply with a discovery order” assumes an ability to comply with such an order and the party's decision not to comply with such an order. However, a showing that it is impossible to make the particular disclosure will bar the imposition of a sanction for such non-disclosure pursuant to Section 3126 of the Civil Practice Law and Rules.

The court concluded that DOE had satisfied the test of “impossibility” insofar as these particular records were concerned.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2012/2012_03786.htm

Employee’s hope that evidence may be uncovered during discovery is insufficient to reject the employer’s motion for summary judgment


Employee’s hope that evidence may be uncovered during discovery is insufficient to reject the employer’s motion for summary judgment
Washington v New York City Bd. of Educ., 2012 NY Slip Op 04103, Appellate Division, First Department
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The employee claimed that she had slipped while using an internal staircase in the school building and then fell.

At the administrative hearing held to consider her claim she testified that she "tripped/slipped and fell" on a "substance" and that the staircase was "unclean, dirty and contained a substance for an unreasonable amount of time." She subsequently filed verified bill of particulars that she slipped and fell "on an unknown liquid substance," and that the subject stairwell was "dirty, slippery, [and] wet."

Although discovery was still pending, the New York City Board of Education moved for summary judgment dismissing the  employee's complaint. The Appellate Division said that the Board had established a prima facie entitlement to summary judgment by pointing to the employee’s testimony at the administrative hearing that she did not know what caused her to fall.

Sustaining the granting of the Board’s motion, the Appellate Division explained that the employee had failed to submit evidence sufficient to raise a triable issue of fact. The assertions in her bill of particulars and her affidavit that she slipped on a wet and slippery condition caused by an "unknown liquid" or "semi-liquid" substance contradict her prior hearing testimony that she did not know what caused her to fall.

Because, said the court, the employee’s affidavit and bill of particulars can only be considered to avoid the consequences of her prior testimony, they are insufficient to raise an issue of fact.

While the employee claimed that certain requested “incident reports and maintenance records,” in conjunction with her testimony that she slipped on "something," could prove that a foreign substance was on the stairs where she fell, the Appellate Division ruled that “the mere hope that evidence sufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment may be uncovered during discovery is insufficient to deny the motion.”

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

Transfer of exclusive bargaining unit work to another bargaining unit

Transfer of exclusive bargaining unit work to another bargaining unit
Selected Rulings posted by PERB  – Matter of the City of New Rochelle, Decision U-26722

The Board affirmed a decision of an ALJ, concluding that the employer violated §209-a.1(d) of the Public Employees’ Fair Employment Act when it unilaterally transferred exclusive bargaining unit work to employees in another bargaining unit. In reaching its decision, the Board rejected the argument that a stipulation resolving a prior improper charge deprived the agency of jurisdiction to decide the present charge.

The Board affirmed the ALJ’s conclusion that the settlement agreement did not grant PBA unit members the right to exclusively perform at issue, but made them eligible for such work and set forth the terms and conditions applicable to perform the work. The Board also rejected a duty satisfaction defense premised upon the terms of the management rights clause in the parties’ agreement

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

From the Office of the State Comptroller


From the Office of the State Comptroller

DiNapoli: Fire District Mismanaged Funds

The Thiells–Roseville Fire District made more than $60,000 in questionable payments and inappropriate gifts, according to an audit released on May 24, 2012 by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.


DiNapoli: DEC Employee Who Cheated Taxpayers Pleads Guilty

A former biologist with the state Department of Environmental Conservation Tuesday pleaded guilty to petit larceny in Albany County Court and paid $15,000 in restitution for spending several hours a week at a local bar instead of performing his work duties, State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli said.


Comptroller DiNapoli Releases Municipal Audits

New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli announced his office completed the following audits: the Town of Bath; the Village of Bath; the Town of Lloyd; the Town of Moreau; the Town of Parish; the Town of Saugerties; the Town of Taghkanic.; the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation; the State Education Department; and, the Department of Motor Vehicles .

Findlaw – Human Resources Newsletter


Findlaw – Human Resources Newsletter
Table of contents for the week of May 29, 2012

Please click on title to access the item.

DOES 'TOO HOT' WOMAN HAVE AN EEOC CLAIM IN AN 'AT WILL' EMPLOYMENT STATE?
(Philadelphia Employment Law News) - Recently, Lauren Odes claimed that she was fired for being "too hot" from the lingerie wholesaler where she worked. The New York Magazine also reported that Odes, with the help of her attorney, Gloria Allred, filed an EEOC complaint charging gender and religious discrimination.

LOST YOUR JOB? WHO HASN'T? FINDLAW'S GUIDE HELPS YOU THROUGH
(Philadelphia Employment Law News) - Well, it looks like the Sixers held on to their jobs against the Celtics. But not so lucky are Dexter Pittman and Udonis Haslem of the Miami Heat, who are suspended after a recent game.

WHAT DOES THE EEOC HAVE TO DO BEFORE IT CAN FIGHT DISCRIMINATION?
(The Chicago Employment Law Blog) - Judge Ruben Castillo, of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, released an opinion last week that might just lead to the Supreme Court in a few years. The case stems from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's role as guardian of the discriminated and disabled.

FINDLAW POLL: PEOPLE PAD RESUMES, IT HURTS
(The Chicago Employment Law Blog) - Here at FindLaw, we’re not just excellent explicators of existing law. We don’t just react to news stories. We also do original research.

EX-TIME WARNER EMPLOYEE SUES OVER PORN AT WORK
(FindLaw's Law & Daily Life) - Time Warner Cable has been hit with another discrimination lawsuit, this time by a former employee in New York. Keith Reid worked in the company's New York City maintenance department for about 9 years before he was fired earlier this year.

JACK'S PLACE ROBBERY: A WORKERS' COMP CLAIM WORTHY OF A RAP STAR
(The Houston Employment Law Blog) - While it seems like only stars in the hip hop world get paid if they survive a shooting, workers' comp insurance just might pay a regular Joe if he got shot at work.

BEST BUY CEO BRIAN DUNN GETS $6.6M SEVERANCE PACKAGE AFTER SCANDAL
(FindLaw's In House) - Best Buy CEO Brian Dunn may have stepped down in early April, but we're only now learning about the intimate details of his relationship with a 29-year-old employee. And the amount of his severance package, of course.

WAITRESSES' 'NO FATTIES' LAWSUIT CAN GO TO JURY
(FindLaw's Law & Daily Life) - Two former New York City waitresses will soon be meeting with a jury. A state appeals court has agreed that Kristen McRedmond and Alexandria Lipton can sue South Place Restaurant & Bar for retaliation and discrimination. They claim they were fired after complaining about the bar's "no fatties" policy.

Employee who failed to attend administrative disciplinary hearing tried in absentia


Employee who failed to attend administrative disciplinary hearing tried in absentia
OATH Index #871/12

The employee failed to appear at the disciplinary hearing and the employer proceed to  established charges alleging various acts of misconduct and, or, insubordination in absentia.*

OATH Administrative Law Judge Alessandra F. Zorgniotti noted that these acts, as well as the employee’s responses when questioned about them, demonstrated that the employee refused to acknowledge his supervisor’s authority over him and would not change his ways. 

Notwithstanding the fact that the employee had never previously been served with disciplinary charges, Judge Zorgniotti recommended termination of employment.

* Courts have held that the employer may proceed with the disciplinary action even though the employee is not present. The hearing may proceed and the employee tried in absentia provided the appointing authority made a diligent effort to contact the employee to inform him or her that the disciplinary hearing had been scheduled and would take place even if he or she did not participate.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://archive.citylaw.org/oath/12_Cases/12-0871.pdf

Alteration of an employee’s duties and responsibilities standing alone not sufficient to establish a prima facie case of discrimination within the meaning of the Human Rights Law


Alteration of an employee’s duties and responsibilities standing alone not sufficient to establish a prima facie case of discrimination within the meaning of the Human Rights Law

After a “literacy coach” was reassigned to a classroom teacher position, the employee filed a complaint alleging the reassignment constituted an unlawful adverse employment action. The Appellate Division disagreed, concluding that none of the employment actions complained of by the employee rose to the level of an adverse employment action.

The court said that the transfer from the position of literacy coach to a classroom teacher was "merely an alteration of [the educator's] responsibilities" and not an adverse employment action, pointing out that apart from a change in the nature of her duties, the individual "retained the terms and conditions of her employment, and her salary remained the same."

As to the teacher’s allegation that she was the victim of unlawful discriminated after her transfer back to the classroom teaching position because she was subjected to ”a relentless stream of reprimands,” the Appellate Division ruled that this was not sufficient to establish a prima facie case of unlawful discrimination. The court noted that “Notwithstanding the frequent reprimands, the teacher received a satisfactory end-of-year performance rating and none of the reprimands resulted in any reduction in pay or privileges."

Addressing the teacher’s complaint of unlawful discrimination based an alleged failure of the employer “to reasonably accommodate her disabling condition,” the court said that the teacher “concedes that [the employer] provided her with a ‘satisfactory’ accommodation in the form of moving her classroom from the fourth to the second floor, with ‘no escort duty.’"

Finally, the Appellate Division said that the teacher had failed to show that her "workplace was permeated with ‘discriminatory intimidation, ridicule and insult’ that [was] sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the terms or conditions of' employment, so as to make out a claim for hostile work environment.”

Finding that the employee's allegations of unlawful discrimination was properly dismissed as none of the employer’s actions complained of constituted an adverse employment action, the Appellate Division affirmed the Supreme Court’s order granting the City’s motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2012/2012_03935.htm

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Retired Public Employees Association, Inc., asks State Supreme Court Justice George Ceresia, Jr. to rule that the decrease in the State’s percentage of its contribution towards the health insurance premiums paid by State retirees unlawful


The Retired Public Employees Association, Inc., asks State Supreme Court Justice George Ceresia, Jr. to rule that the decrease in the State’s percentage of its contribution towards the health insurance premiums paid by State retirees unlawful
Source: RPEA e-mail

The Retired Public Employees Association, Inc. [RPEA], referring to a front page article captioned “Did the State Legislature give away its power to control how much money state employees pay toward their health care?” by Rick Karlin that appeared in the Albany Times-Union dated Thursday, May 24, 2012, reports that on Wednesday, May 23, 2012 it asked  State Supreme Court Justice George Ceresia, Jr. to find that the State’s reduction of the percentage of its contribution towards the health insurance premiums paid by pre-October 1, 2011 retired State employee violates Civil Service Law §167.1(a).

Essentially RPEA argued:

  1. This action was brought by RPEA on behalf of those individuals who retired from the State as the employer prior to the effective of date of regulations promulgated by the President of the New York State Civil Service Commission [October 1, 2011] under color of the 2011 amendment to CSL Section 167.8. 
  1. The 2011 amendment to Civil Service Law Section 167.8 must be applied in a manner consistent with the doctrine of legislative equivalency, whereby the provisions of Section 167.1(a) control except as otherwise specifically authorized to reflect a term and condition of employment set out in a collective bargaining agreement. City of Plattsburgh v Local 788, 108 AD2d 1045 is an example of the application of the doctrine. In Plattsblurgh the Appellate Division held that the procedure for determining an individual’s seniority for the purposes of layoff as set out in §80.1 of the Civil Service Law can neither be diminished nor impaired by the terms of collective bargaining agreements in contrast to the Legislature’s amending §80 providing for an alternate means of determining such seniority with respect to police officers employed in certain police departments as set out in subdivisions 1-a through 1-d of §80.* 
  1. Prior to its 2011 amendment, Section 167.8 authorized extending any “negotiated increases” in the State’s cost of premium or subscription charges for health insurance to employees then in active service not subject to a collective bargaining agreement - i.e., unrepresented employees in the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches of government. Significantly said Section 167.8 specifically provided that such “negotiated increases” shall not be provided to State employees already retired nor upon the retirement of any said unrepresented employees and, unless otherwise specifically otherwise provided in the collective bargaining agreement, employees in the relevant collective bargaining unit retiring during the life of the collective bargaining agreement. The State’s contribution rates to be made on behalf of all such retirees was, and continues to be, set out in Civil Service Law Section 167.1(a). 
  1. The 2011 amendment to Civil Service Law Section 167.8 provided that a collective bargaining agreement between the State and an employee organization could modify such State costs – i.e., the State’s cost could be either increased or decreased – and the President of the State Civil Service Commission, with the approval of the Director of the Budget, could extend the modified state cost of premium or subscription charges for employees or retirees not subject to such an agreement and was authorized to promulgate the necessary rules or regulations to implement this provision with respect to employees in service on or after the effective date of such regulation. 
  1. It is well settled that any employee of the State as the employer who retired prior to the effective date of any such agreement is not an individual within the relevant collective bargaining unit and would not be subject to any negotiated terms and condition of employment set out therein.** Accordingly, at best the only individuals to whom the provisions of Civil Service Law Section 167.8 as amended could apply with respect to the State’s contributions for health insurance are [1] employees of the State in the relevant collective bargaining unit currently in active service; [2] unrepresented employees of the State to whom the provisions of the collective bargaining agreement modifying the State’s contributions have been extended at the discretion of the President of the Civil Service Commission with the approval of the Director of the Budget currently in active service; and [3] employees of the State described in [1] and [2] above who retired, or become retired, during the life of the relevant collective bargaining agreement. In contrast, State’s contribution for health insurance on behalf of employees of the State who retired from State service prior to the effective date of said Regulations are set out in Civil Service Law Section 167.1(a), which provision have not been amended by the State Legislature. 

  1. Any effort by the State to amend the provisions of Section 167.1(a) insofar as individual who retired from the State as the employer prior to October 1, 2011, the effective date of a regulation implementing the terms and conditions of a collective bargaining agreement with respect to the State’s contributions towards health insurance premiums and subscription charges, is a nullity insofar as such retirees are concerned as a rule or regulation may not amend provisions of law set out in a statute but may merely provide for its lawful administration and application. So said the Court of Appeals in Torre v County of Nassau, 86 NY2d 421, wherein the court, noting the doctrine of legislative equivalency, held that a position created by a legislative act can be abolished only by a correlative legislative act. Applying the doctrine in this instance means that the State's rates of contributions for health insurance, having been set out in Civil Service Law Section 167.1(a) by the State Legislature, may only be changed by a legislative act by the State Legislature. Such was the case when the Legislature so acted in 1983*** and amended Civil Service Law Section 167.1(a) mandating a lower rate of contributions by the State for individual coverage on behalf of State employees retiring on or after January 1, 1983.

N.B. In Bransten v State of New York, 40 Misc 3d 512 , an action involving the impact of Section 167.8 as amended on compensation of judges, the court, in part, held: "... More importantly, while the terms of the agreement giving rise to plaintiffs' increase in contributions were negotiated between the State and the union, plaintiffs are unrepresented, and not eligible for collective bargaining, and were, like the judges affected by the Social Security tax in Hatter [U.S. v Hatter (532 US 577], left without a choice and required to contribute. That the Legislature did not single out judges for special treatment in order to influence them is thus irrelevant (see Hatter, 532 US at 577).

“Moreover, defendant negotiated its reduction in contributions in order to avoid the layoffs of thousands of State employees, none of which include judges or justices, because Judges and Justices are not subject to "layoffs." Thus, the increased cost of health insurance borne by plaintiffs bears no relation to the purpose of the State's reduction in its contributions.”

A similar argument could be advanced with respect to non-judicial retirees of the State as the employer, i., in  increasing the cost of Health Insurance to retirees of the State as the employer by decreasing the percentage of the State's contribution on behalf of such retirees bears no relation to the stated purpose of the State's reduction of its percentage of its contributions on behalf of its active employees – to avoid layoffs.

* Legislation extending similar procedures to certain members of other police agencies in the event of a layoff is pending in the Assembly [A9887-2011] and in the Senate [S7075-2011]. See http://publicpersonnellaw.blogspot.com/2012/04/legislation-proposed-to-provide-for-new.html for a NYPPL summary of these bills.

** http://publicpersonnellaw.blogspot.com/2012/04/health-insurance-benefit-enjoyed-by.html summarizes a  State Supreme Court decision in which the court held that health insurance benefits enjoyed by retired individuals are not subject to collective bargaining between the employer and the employee organization absent the consent of all the parties [DiBattista v County of Westchester35 Misc3d 1205].

*** Chapter 14, Laws of 1983, retroactive to December 15, 1982 to accommodate the premiums due effective January 1, 1983.

Mr. Karlin’s article is posted on the Internet at:
Read more:  http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/State-retirees-ask-judge-to-roll-back-health-3581516.php#ixzz1vn6qcyB7

Thursday, May 24, 2012

A complainant alleging unlawful discrimination must set out a prima facie case of discrimination, shifting the burden of going forward to the employer to demonstrate a nondiscriminatory reason for its action


A complainant alleging unlawful discrimination must set out a prima facie case of discrimination, shifting the burden of going forward to the employer to demonstrate a nondiscriminatory reason for its action

This Article 78 proceeding challenged a determination by the Commissioner of the New York State Division of Human Rights [DHR] in which the Commissioner adopted the recommendations and findings of an Administrative Law Judge that the employer had violated Executive Law §296(1)(a) by discriminating against the complainant on the basis of her military status. The complainant was awarded compensatory damages in the amount of $15,000 and $10,880 in back pay.

The Appellate Division granted the employer’s appeal and annulled the Commissioner’s decision and dismissed the administrative complaint.

The court explained that judicial review of a determination of the DHR made after a hearing is limited to whether the determination is supported by substantial evidence. Here, said the court, the DHR's determination was not supported by substantial evidence.

To establish liability under Executive Law §296(1)(a) arising from the termination of employment, a complainant must establish, before the DHR, a prima facie case of discrimination by a preponderance of the evidence by showing that the complainant is

1. A member of a class protected by the statute;

2. Was actively or constructively discharged;

3. Was qualified to hold the position from which he or she was terminated; and

4. Was terminated under circumstances which give rise to an inference of discrimination.

The burden of establishing a prima facie showing has been described as "de minimus" and once such a showing has been made, the burden shifts to the employer to rebut the individual's prima facie case by providing a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the individual's termination.

In response to such a rebuttal, the complainant must show by a preponderance of the evidence that the employer's reasons for the challenged termination were pretextual and the complainant having the burden of persuasion on the ultimate issue of discrimination.

The Appellate Division founds that the complainant had met her burden of demonstrating a prima facie case of discrimination based on her military status by demonstrating that the employer terminated her for being late on days which included days she served on military duty and that the employer had remarked that he was tired of dealing with issues relating to her military status, which gave rise to an inference of discrimination.

However, said the court, in response to the complainant's prima facie showing, the employer demonstrated that he terminated her for a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason which was not based on her military status.

The Appellate Division said that the complainant's time cards support the employer’s contention that he terminated the complainant's employment because she continued to be late after being placed on probation for lateness, including the day her employment was terminated, for reasons having nothing to do with her military status.

The court also ruled that the employer’s argument that he did not discharge the complainant because of her military status was further supported by the fact that “he hired the complainant after a single interview, with full knowledge of her regularly scheduled reserve obligations, which he accommodated by not scheduling her to work on the first weekend of any month.”

Concluding that the employer had met his burden before the DHR of demonstrating that he terminated the complainant's employment for a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason and that the complainant failed to show that this reason was pretextual, the Appellate Division found that “DHR's determination was not supported by substantial evidence in the record and must, thus, be annulled.”

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

Employee terminated for cause entitled to back pay for the period she was suspended without pay in excess of 30 days


Employee terminated for cause entitled to back pay for the period she was suspended without pay in excess of 30 days

The Westchester County Health Care Corporation adopted the recommendation of a hearing officer, made after a hearing pursuant to Civil Service Law §75, finding the employee guilty of certain charges of misconduct and insubordination. It then terminated the individual from its employ.

Te Appellate Division sustained Supreme Court’s dismissal of an Article 78 petition challenging the disciplinary termination of an employee with respect to the merits of the appeal. The court held that contrary to the individual’s contention, Westchester’s determination that the individual was guilty of certain charges of misconduct and insubordination was supported by substantial evidence in the record.

The court also rejected the individual’s claim that she was denied a fair hearing due to the alleged bias of the hearing officer as being without merit, finding that there was no evidence in the record to support her contention that the hearing officer was biased.

As to the penalty imposed, dismissal, the court ruled that termination was “not so disproportionate to the offenses committed by the petitioner as to be shocking to one's sense of fairness, thus constituting an abuse of discretion as a matter of law.”

Although the Appellate Division sustained Supreme Court’s dismissal of an Article 78 petition challenging the disciplinary action, the court remanded the matter to the lower court for its determination regarding any back pay due the dismissed individual.

Here, said the court, the individual “correctly contends that she is entitled to back pay for the period she was suspended without pay in excess of 30 days, excluding delay, if any, occasioned by her, and less unemployment insurance benefits received for that period, if any,” citing Civil Service Law §75[3].

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

Voluntary separation to avoid discipline disqualifies employee for unemployment insurance benefits


Voluntary separation to avoid discipline disqualifies employee for unemployment insurance benefits
Source: Adjunct Law Prof Blog; http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/adjunctprofs/
Reproduced with permission. Copyright © 2012, Mitchell H. Rubinstein, Esq., Adjunct Professor of Law, St. Johns Law School and New York Law School, All rights reserved.

Matter of Kean v. Commissioner of Labor, ___A.D.3d___(3d Dep't. March 15, 2012), is an interesting case as it discusses voluntary separations in relation to entitlement to unemployment. As the court explains:

 "Voluntarily separating from one's employment to accept a severance or early retirement package when continuing work remains available has been held not to constitute good cause for leaving employment" (Matter of Lucht [Commissioner of Labor], 49 AD3d 1048, 1049 [2008]; see Matter of Cammisa [Commissioner of Labor], 38 AD3d 1146 [2007]). Here, claimant testified that she was capable of working, had not been threatened by her employer and had not been advised by a physician to leave her job.

Even if claimant quit because she assumed that she might be terminated in the future, leaving a job in anticipation of discharge is not considered to be a departure for good cause under these circumstances (see Matter of Carcaterra [Association for Computing Machinery, Inc.—Commissioner of Labor], 90 AD3d 1389, 1390 [2011]).

Inasmuch as there is substantial evidence supporting the Board's ruling, it will not be disturbed (see Matter of Cammisa [Commissioner of Labor], 38 AD3d at 1146).


NYPPL comments:

N.B. Submitting a resignation in anticipation of, or in lieu or settlement of, a disciplinary action may have other unintended consequences. For example, typically applications for competitive examination for  employment with the State or a political subdivision of the State include the following questions:

Yes [ ] No [ ]  Were you ever discharged from any employment except for lack of work for funds, disability or medical condition?

Yes [ ] No [ ]  Did you ever resign from any employment rather than face discharge?

If you answered YES to any of these questions, provide details under REMARKS on Page 3. Your failure to answer any of these questions or to provide details will significantly delay any determination concerning your qualifications and may deprive you of potential employment opportunities.

The State Department of Civil Service or a local civil service commission may disqualify an individual seeking an appointment to a position in competitive class of the classified service pursuant to Civil Service Law §50.4 subdivisions (e), (f) or (g), which subdivisions are set out below:

(e) who has been dismissed from a permanent position in the public service upon stated written charges of incompetency or misconduct, after an opportunity to answer such charges in writing, or who has resigned from, or whose service has otherwise been terminated in, a permanent or temporary position in the public service, where it is found after appropriate investigation or inquiry that such resignation or termination resulted from his incompetency or misconduct, provided, that in cases of dismissal, resignation or termination after written charges of incompetency, the examination or certification in question be for a position that requires the performance of a duty or duties which are the same as or similar to the duty or duties of the position from which the applicant has been dismissed, resigned or terminated on account of incompetency; [emphasis supplied] or

(f)  who has intentionally made a false statement of any material fact in his application; or

(g) who has practiced, or attempted to practice, any deception or fraud in his application, in his examination, or in securing his eligibility or appointment.



Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Board of Education’s decision concerning the discontinuing of the services of the school superintendent sustained by the Commissioner of Education


Board of Education’s decision concerning the discontinuing of the services of the school superintendent sustained by the Commissioner of Education
Decision of the Commissioner of Education, Decision No. 16,352

The contract of employment between the school board and its superintendent included a provision entitled “Termination” wherein it provided that the employment relationship between the superintendent and the board could be terminated for any of the following reasons:

1. Disability of the superintendent;

2. Written resignation of the superintendent;

3. Termination upon agreement; or

4. Discharge for cause.

When the board and the superintendent entered into an agreement entitled “Separation Agreement, Release and Waiver” providing for a payment of $89,500 in full satisfaction of the district’s financial obligations to the superintendent and the superintendent’s agreement to resign from the position and forfeit all claims against the District, an individual filed an appeal with the Commissioner of Education challenging the execution of such an agreement.

Essentially the appeal argued that the superintendent should be terminated for cause without compensation, alleging various acts of misconduct on the part of the Superintendent. 

In addition, the appeal alleged that the Board “wilfully neglected its duty and misused district funds by offering to buy out the superintendent’s employment contract and by failing to investigate [the petitioner's] allegations and take corrective action.” The redress requested: the Commissioner should remove members of the Board from their positions and appoint a new board to serve until a special election is held and appoint or oversee the process to appoint a new superintendent.

After noting a number of procedural omissions requiring dismissal of certain allegations advanced by the individual, the Commissioner turned to turn to the merits of the remaining claims.

Citing Education Law §§1709(13) and (33), and 1804(1), the Commissioner said that a board of education has broad powers “concerning the superintendence, management, and control of a central school district.” In addition, noted the Commissioner, “a board of education has the authority to enter into an employment contract with a superintendent including provisions regarding termination, citing Education Law §§1711 and 1804[1]. 

Finding that in this instance the Board had entered into an employment agreement with the Superintendent that contained several options with respect to termination, the Commissioner dismissed the appeal commenting that “I will not substitute my judgment for that of a board of education unless it is demonstrated that the board acted arbitrarily, capriciously, abused its discretion or failed to comply with applicable law.”

In an appeal to the Commissioner, the petitioner has the burden of demonstrating a clear legal right to the relief requested and the burden of establishing the facts upon which petitioner seeks relief. 

The Commissioner decided that “On the record before me, petitioner has failed to meet her burden,” explaining that “The terms of the contract specifically permit termination by mutual agreement, and [the Board’s] answer indicates that [the Board] carefully considered the issues, including weighing the costs of discharge for cause versus a negotiated agreement.”

Although the Commissioner noted that the petitioner disagreed with the Board’s decision not to dismiss the superintendent for cause, the Commissioner said that “she has submitted no reply to refute the board’s statements that it reviewed its options and determined that a separation agreement was more responsible than a protracted dismissal for cause” and dismissed the appeal."

The decision is posted on the Internet at:


Volunteer firefighter injured while engaged in the Fire District’s program to maintain his or her ability to perform his or her duties compensable under the Volunteer Firefighters' Benefits Law


Volunteer firefighter injured while engaged in the Fire District’s program to maintain his or her ability to perform his or her duties compensable under the Volunteer Firefighters' Benefits Law

All volunteer firefighters and emergency medical technicians in the Volunteer Fire District were informed that the swine flu vaccine was going to be provided for them at a designated clinic. One firefighter/EMT was refused the vaccine at that clinic but subsequently went to different clinic to receive her flu shot. Returning home, the firefighter/EMT was involved in a one-car accident that resulted in multiple injuries.

The individual filed a claim for benefits available pursuant to the Volunteer Firefighters Law and a hearing was held to determine whether her claim fell within the provisions of the Act. Ultimately, the Workers' Compensation Board determined that her injuries were incurred while she was engaged in an activity covered by the law and awarded her benefits. The District and its workers' compensation carrier appealed.

The Appellate Division affirmed the Board’s determination, explaining: “[W]hether a given activity of a volunteer fire fighter falls within the line of duty is a question of statutory construction particularly within the Board's expertise.” In this instance the Board found that injuries suffered by the firefighter/EMT were compensable pursuant to Volunteer Firefighters' Benefit Law §5(1)(p).

§5(1)(p). covers individuals participating in a "supervised physical fitness class, group session or program for the purpose of promoting or maintaining the performance of their duties as firefighters, as well as necessary travel to and necessary travel from such activity."

Here, said the court, the record demonstrates that “the District, at the very least, strongly encouraged EMTs to receive the swine flu vaccination and made arrangements for them to receive the vaccine at no cost.” Under these circumstances, the Appellate Division found that the Board could reasonably conclude that individual's injuries were sustained pursuant to her participation in a program to maintain the performance of her duties and, thus, its determination was supported by substantial evidence

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2012/2012_03920.htm

Filing of an amicus brief with PERB

Filing of an amicus brief with PERB
Selected Rulings posted by PERB  – Matter of the County of Suffolk, Decision U-28610

The Board granted motions by the Police Conference of New York and the Suffolk County Police Conference to file amicus briefs* with respect to exceptions from an ALJ decision dismissing a charge alleging that the County of Suffolk violated §209-a.1(d) of the Public Employees’ Fair Employment Act when it unilaterally transferred supervisory police duties previously performed on the Long Island Expressway and Sunrise Highway by the members of the Supervisor Officers’ Association of the Police Department of the County of Suffolk. 

This decision reflects PERB’s view that an amicus brief may be valuable during consideration of pending exceptions. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Failing to provide for the timely removal of a contested writing from an employee's personnel file or record is not fatal to filing §3020-a charges against the employee

Failing to provide for the timely removal of a contested writing from an employee's personnel file or record is not fatal to filing §3020-a charges against the employee

The arbitrator found a New York City school teacher guilty of various specifications filed against her pursuant to §3020-a of the Education Law. The penalty imposed: a four months' suspension of employment without pay and benefits.

Supreme Court denied a New York City school teacher’s petition seeking to vacate a post-hearing arbitration award brought pursuant to Education Law §3020-a(5) and CPLR 7511, unanimously affirmed, without costs.

In affirming the lower court’s ruling, the Appellate Division said that the arbitration award had been made in accord with due process and was not arbitrary and capricious, irrational, or lacking in evidentiary support, citing City School District v McGraham, 17 NY3d 917.

In response to the teacher’s challenge to the award on the theory that the New York City Department of Education [DOE] had failed to meet the time requirements set forth in Article 21(C)(3) of the collective bargaining agreement, the Appellate Division said the even if DOE had failed to comply with such time requirements “dismissal of the disciplinary charges against the educator was not required.

Article 21(C)(3), explained the court, “merely provides for the removal of a contested writing from an employee's personnel file or record in the event the procedural requirements of the Article are not followed.” Accordingly, such a defect “does not preclude the filing of formal disciplinary charges pursuant to Education Law §3020-a.”

Citing Matter of Pell v Board of Educ. of Union Free School Dist. No. 1 of Towns of Scarsdale & Mamaroneck, Westchester County, 34 NY2d 222, the Appellate Division said that “The penalty imposed does not shock our sense of fairness,” and dismissed the educator’s appeal.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

======================
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======================

Terminated probationer not entitled to a pre-termination hearing

Terminated probationer not entitled to a pre-termination hearing

The Appellate Division affirmed a Supreme Court’s ruling dismissing an Article 78 petition filed by a former employee challenging his termination from his position during his probationary period.

In dismissing the former employee’s appeal the Appellate Division said that “It is well-settled that a probationary employee may be discharged without a hearing and without a statement of reasons, in the absence of any demonstration that the dismissal was in bad faith, for a constitutionally impermissible purpose, or in violation of law, citing Swinton v Safir, 93 NY2d 758.

In this instance, said the court, evidence in the record regarding the individual’s unsatisfactory completion of his duties provide a rational basis for the employer’s determination, “particularly since petitioner received ample opportunity to improve.”

As there was nothing substantial in the former employee’s allegations purporting to show bad fait, the Appellate Davison held that no hearing was required and the petition was properly denied by Supreme Court.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

 

Monday, May 21, 2012


NYC police officer forfeited his pension benefits following his removal from his position pursuant to Public Officers Law §30.1(e)

A police officer was one of five committee members responsible for receiving applications and making recommendations to the New York City Police Department [NYCPD] Contract Administration Unit regarding contract bids submitted by entities seeking to care for retired NYPD horses.

Among the specification was one that required that the facility consist of at least 30 acres. A friend of the police officer was one of the entities that submitted a bid. However, although the bid filed by the police officer’s friend claimed that the facility had 35 acres of land, it, in fact, it had only 19 acres. The police officer recommended that his friend’s facility be awarded a contract and ultimately the Contract Administration Unit awarded a contract in the amount of about $2.5 million to the police officer’s friend.

Both the police officer and the bidder were arrested and both pled guilty to one count of Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the Second Degree, a Class A misdemeanor. (Penal Law §175.30). As a result, the police officer was terminated from his position by operation of law pursuant to Public Officers Law §30.1(e), Justice Stallman held that the police officer was (1) not entitled to a pre-termination hearing nor (2) was he was eligible to retire and collect his pension.

In the words of Justice Stallman: [The police officer’] conviction by guilty plea automatically caused his office to become vacant because his crime constituted a violation of his oath of office. [The Police Commissioner’s] recognition of {the officer’s] automatic termination was neither arbitrary nor capricious, nor in violation of law

Addressing another aspect of the police officer’s loss of his pension benefits, Justice Stallman noted that “formal departmental disciplinary charges” had been filed against the police officer and that the officer and the Department had agreed to a "Negotiated Settlement" which stated, in pertinent part:

"I understand that if this Negotiated Settlement is approved by the Police Commissioner, the penalty against me will be as follows:

I shall forfeit all time, pay, and benefits for the period while under suspension … and agrees to immediately file for SERVICE RETIREMENT. Respondent will not file for SERVICE RETIREMENT unless and until this Negotiated Settlement is approved by the Police Commissioner ….”

The Negotiated Settlement also contained the following statement: "NOTE: THIS AGREEMENT IS SUBJECT TO APPROVAL OF THE POLICE COMMISSIONER.”

Although the NYPD Department Advocate recommended approval of the negotiated plea agreement, which was endorsed by the Department’s First Deputy Commissioner, the Police Commissioner disapproved the negotiated plea.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:


Saturday, May 19, 2012

Unilateral modification of a past practice

Unilateral modification of a past practice
Selected Rulings posted by PERB - Matter of the Board of Education of the City School District of the City of New York, Decision U-28706

PERB affirmed a decision of an ALJ finding that the Board of Education of the City School District of the City of New York violated §209-a.1(d) of the Public Employees’ Fair Employment Act (Act) when it unilaterally modified a past practice by reducing the number of annual parking permits issued to Local 891-represented unit members, and by changing the method of distribution of the permits.

PERB held that free parking is a mandatory subject of negotiations because it is an economic benefit to the employees and that the distribution of parking permits is also mandatorily negotiable. It also affirmed the ALJ’s conclusion that the District unilaterally reduced the number of parking permits issued to Local 891-represented unit members and changed the existing practice of distributing parking permits upon request to unit members.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Termination without notice or hearing by operation of law


Termination without notice or hearing by operation of law

Supreme Court, New York County, dismissed an Article 78 petition seeking to annul the termination of New York City Department of Corrections correction officer without notice or hearing or, in the alternative, an order compelling the Corrections Department to conduct an evidentiary hearing. The Appellate Division unanimously affirmed the lower court’s ruling.

According to the decision, the correction officer had pleaded guilty in Pennsylvania to stalking, a first degree misdemeanor under Pennsylvania law. The Department of Corrections had terminated him pursuant to Public Officers Law §30(1)(e), deeming that the correction officer had been terminated “by operation of law” by reason of his conviction of the misdemeanor in Pennsylvania.

Public Officers Law §30(1)(e) provides that a public office automatically becomes vacant upon the officeholder's conviction of a felony, or a crime involving a violation of his or her oath of office.

The Appellate Division held that the correction officer’s Pennsylvania conviction involved a violation of his oath of office and thus his office automatically became vacant by operation of law pursuant to §30(1)(e), resulting in his lawful termination from his postion without notice and hearing.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2012/2012_03871.htm

Employer has the burden of proof that a disability prevents the employee from reasonably performing the functions and duties of the position


Employer has the burden of proof that a disability prevents the employee from reasonably performing the functions and duties of the position
Matter of New York State Dept. of Correctional Servs. v New York State Div. of Human Rights, 57 AD3d 1057

New York State Correction Officer Edward J. Rice suffered a heart attack that resulted in the implantation of stents and a defibrillator in his chest. Although Rice was cleared for duty without restriction by his cardiologist, Corrections placed him on involuntary leave until November 2005, at which time it terminated Rice's employment on the basis that he "ha[d] been continuously absent" and "unable to perform the duties of his position for more than one year" as a result of a disability pursuant to Civil Service Law §73.

Rice filed a complaint with the State’s Division of Human Rights (SDHR), alleging that Corrections had engaged in an unlawful discriminatory practice by terminating his employment due to a disability.

Although a SDHR Administrative Law Judge determined that Rice had failed to establish that he was fit to perform the essential duties of a correction officer and, thus, Corrections had not improperly terminated his employment, the Commissioner of Human Rights concluded that Corrections had, in fact, engaged in an unlawful discriminatory practice by terminating Rice's employment.

The Commissioner awarded Rice back pay, as well as damages for emotional pain and suffering.

Corrections appealed, but the Appellate Division said that Corrections could not terminate Rice’s employment on the basis of his disability unless it proved that the disability prevented him from reasonably performing the functions and duties of a correction officer.

In support of the determination that Corrections had engaged in an unlawful discriminatory practice by terminating Rice's employment on the basis of his disability, SDHR relied upon, among other things, the reports of Rice's treating cardiologists, as well as the original report of the physician who performed an independent medical examination for petitioner, that Rice was capable of returning to work without any restriction.

In contrast, SDHR found that the reports of Correction's medical examiner that Rice was unable to function as a correction officer due to the possibility of a physical confrontation with an inmate damaging his defibrillator were insufficient to support the termination of his employment inasmuch as “the identified risk was speculative and hypothetical in nature.”

Finally, said the court, the fact that Rice's application for, and receipt of, Social Security disability insurance benefits subsequent to the termination of his employment does not, as a matter of law, preclude a finding that Corrections had unlawfully discriminated against Rice.

The full text of the decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2008/2008_09517.htm

Characterizing a complaint as a violation of civil service rules does not avoid having to seek relief pursuant to the contract grievance procedure

Characterizing a complaint as a violation of civil service rules does not avoid having to seek relief pursuant to the contract grievance procedure
Montgomery County Deputy Sheriff's Assn., Inc. v County of Montgomery, 57 AD3d 1061

Cathy Anderson and Grace De Waal Malefyt each worked for a period of time in the title of "part-time" correction officer in Montgomery County. During their respective periods of employment in the title of part-time correction officer, both voluntarily and regularly “worked in excess of 20 hours per week and, in fact, in excess of 40 hours per week” without complaint nor did the Association ever file complaints on their behalf or sought to obtain additional compensation or benefits for them during this period.

Anderson and Waal Malefyt were appointed "full time" correction officers in 2000 and 2003 respectively.

In March 2004, the Association sued, seeking monetary relief in the form of retroactive benefits under the collective bargaining agreement. Supreme Court granted the County’s motion for summary judgment and dismissed the action.

In addressing the Association’s appeal from the dismissal of its petition by Supreme Court, the Appellate Division ruled that “Having failed to avail themselves of the grievance procedures outlined under the very collective bargaining agreement on which they now rely for monetary relief, [Anderson and Waal Malefyt] and the Association failed to exhaust administrative remedies and are precluded from pursuing this action.”

The Appellate Division noted that in an effort to avoid the rejection of its appeal because of the failure to exhaust administrative remedies, Anderson and Waal Malefyt and the Association try to disavow their reliance on the collective bargaining agreement by claiming that “they are not seeking to enforce the collective bargaining agreement but, rather, are alleging a violation of the County Civil Service Rules and Regulations.”

The court said that the petition filed in Supreme Court “belies this notion” as it clearly alleged that County defendants “have breached the terms of the collective bargaining agreement . . . in that they, as [j]oint [e]mployers, denied [p]laintiffs . . . benefits afforded by the collective bargaining agreement to full-time employees while holding the title of ‘[p]art-time [c]orrection [o]fficer’” and “denied the benefits contained in the collective bargaining agreement, including, but not limited to longevity, health insurance, vacation leave, holiday pay, sick leave, personal time, and increased wages.”

Thus, said the Appellate Division, it is clear that the true nature of this action is for breach of contract. Further, said the court, “even if we were to view the complaint as simply alleging a violation of the County Civil Service Rules and Regulations,” the result would be the same “as the monetary remedy for this perceived violation is still being sought under the auspices of the collective bargaining agreement, thus leading to the same result; namely, that [Anderson and Waal Malefyt] and the Association were still required to avail themselves of the grievance and arbitration procedures outlined under the agreement with the failure to do so being fatal to the requested relief.”

The full text of the decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2008/2008_09519.htm


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Custodian-helpers hired by Custodian-engineers employed by the NYC Department of Education are not “building service employees” within the meaning of the Labor Law


Custodian-helpers hired by Custodian-enginers employed by the NYC Department of Education are not “building service employees” within the meaning of the Labor Law
Brown v Liu, 2012 NY Slip Op 03567, Appellate Division, First Department

Supreme Court dismissed an Article 78 petition seeking an investigation of wage complaints filed by certain members of Local 94 serving as "custodian-helpers" employed New York City Department of Education [DOE] "custodian-engineers.". The Appellate Division unanimously affirmed the Supreme Court’s ruling.

The Appellate Division explained that as the union members involved served as “custodian-helpers,” they were not entitled to the prevailing wage and benefits protection under Labor Law Article 9.* Such is the case because under the "indirect system" of custodial care, the DOE employs custodian-engineers in accordance with civil service regulations. These custodian-engineers, in turn, may employ custodian-helpers.

Indeed, the relevant collective bargaining agreement for the custodian-engineers' provides that they are employees of the DOE. 

Thus, said the court, the custodian-engineers are not "contractors" and the custodian-helpers employed by them are not "building service employees" of DOE’s custodian-engineers as those terms are defined in Labor Law §230.

* Article 9 of the Labor Law is captioned “Prevailing Wage For Building Service Employees.”

The decision is posted on the Internet at: http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2012/2012_03567.htm

Legislative approval of a grievance settlement that does not change the terms and conditions of controlling Taylor Law contract is not required


Legislative approval of a grievance settlement that does not change the terms and conditions of controlling Taylor Law contract is not required
Patrolmen's Benevolent Assn. of City of Long Beach, Inc. v City of Long Beach,
57 AD3d 499

This litigation involved efforts by the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association [PBA] to enforce three stipulations executed by the parties in settlement of three grievances initiated by the PBA pursuant to the terms of its collective bargaining agreement with the City of Long Beach. The three grievances initiated by the PBA on behalf of its members concerned sick leave retirement computations, night differential pay calculations, and a disciplinary action that had been brought against 17 of its members.

In response to the PBA’s inquiry concerning the City's compliance with the terms of one of the settlement agreements, the City indicated that it regarded all three underlying grievances as still pending. The reason offered by the City in support of its views: The City Council had never approved the settlements and thus they were not binding on the parties.

The PBA, seeking to enforce the terms of the stipulations and agreements, sued and won a decision by Supreme Court holding the stipulations and agreements were legally binding and enforceable as between the parties. The City was directed by Supreme Court to abide by the terms of the settlement agreements. Long Beach appealed, only to have the Appellate Division affirm the Supreme Court’s ruling.

As to the City’s claim that approval by the City Council was required to bind the parties, the Appellate Division said that the Court of Appeals in Board of Education for City School District of City of Buffalo v Buffalo Teachers Federation, 89 NY2d 370, made it clear that “the Taylor Law does not by its terms 'vary or extend the instances in which legislative approval is necessary and does not create a necessity for action by a legislative body where it does not otherwise exist.'" Here, said the court, Long Beach "has not identified any further legislative action that it must perform under the pertinent statutes" as a condition to the approval of the three stipulations settling the PBA’s grievances.

The Appellate Division also noted the past practice of the parties of executing similar stipulations resolving PBA grievances by the City Manager and the President of the PBA without any need for City Council ratification.

Further, the decision notes, the stipulations and agreements involved do not alter or amend the language of the controlling collective bargaining agreement so as to trigger the need for legislative approval. Rather, said the court, “they represented agreements between the parties on how they would interpret certain CBA provisions.” Therefore, “no City Council approval was needed in order for the stipulations and agreements to bind the parties.”

The full text of the decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2008/2008_09573.htm

Public employees and the First Amendment right to free speech


Public employees and the First Amendment right to free speech
Thomas v City of Blanchard, 548 F.3d 1317

In considering a public employee’s claim that his or her First Amendment right to free speech has been compromised by his or her public employer, courts distinguish between the employee’s speech in terms of the vindication of a personal interest and the vindication of a public interest.

Another arena in which an employee may contend that his or her employer’s actions are violative of the employee’s free speech are tested in terms of whether the speech concerned the employee’s official duties or a public interest.

The latter was the issue in the Thomas case: Was Thomas’s report to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI) made pursuant to his professional duties and therefore outside the scope of First Amendment protections within the meaning of Garcetti v Ceballos, 547 U.S. 410, or was his speech a matter of public interest and thus protected by the First Amendment?

Ira Thomas was fired from his job as building code inspector for the City of Blanchard, Oklahoma, after he discovered a signed and completed certificate of occupancy for a home constructed by a local builder — who was also the mayor — in the City Clerk’s office although Thomas had neither made the final inspection of the home nor approved issuance of the certificate.

In the words of the Tenth Circuit, “Suspecting illegality, Mr. Thomas responded forcefully (and maybe even inappropriately; that is a disputed issue) by storming into a meeting to denounce the certificate, shouting at the City Clerk, threatening to report the matter to the OSBI and eventually following through on the threat.”

Subsequently terminated from his position, Thomas sued the City and various city officials, including the mayor, claiming his discharge was in retaliation for his exercising his right to free speech — primarily, his reporting the matter to the OSBI — and therefore in violation of the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.

The Circuit Court decided that Thomas’s search was not made pursuant to his professional duties and thus was constitutionally protected. Citing its decision in Casey v. West Las Vegas Independent School District, 473 F.3d 1323, the court concluded that ala Casey, "Thomas was not satisfied that the city’s officials would report the fraud to the authorities, so he 'took his grievance elsewhere' — that is, to the OSBI.”

The court then considered a number of additional relevant issues including (1) whether the government’s interest outweighed the employee’s free speech rights and (2) whether the speech was a motivating factor in the discharge.

As to whether Thomas’s speech was a matter of public concern, the Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that although this issue was raised for the first time in this appeal, speech about possible illegality or pressure by the mayor would count as a matter of public concern.

Addressing whether city’s interest as employer in promoting the efficiency of the services it performs outweighs the employee’s interest in his speech, the court said that for the purposes of this test, the question is not whether the plaintiff’s speech was accompanied by disruptive behavior or made in a disruptive manner, but whether the government’s legitimate interests provide a sufficient justification for controlling Thomas’s message.

The decision also addresses other significant issues concerning the rights and limitations concerning the exercise of “free speech” by a public employee.

The full text of the decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.ca10.uscourts.gov/opinions/07/07-6197.pdf

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Designating a beneficiary typically will result a reduction of the individual’s retirement allowance otherwise payable before such a designation


Designating a beneficiary typically will result a reduction of the individual’s retirement allowance otherwise payable before such a designation

A retired Chief of Department is entitled to a retirement allowance, consisting of both an annuity and a pension. In this instance the retired Chief of Department of the New York City Police Department, challenged Board of Trustees' interpretation of Administrative Code §13-249, claiming that the plain language of the statute entitled him to receive a pension equal to two-thirds of his salary unreduced by any optional modification.  

Although Supreme Court granting the retiree’s petition holding that that New York City Police Department’s failure to apply the plain language of Administrative Code of City of New York §13-249 to the calculation of retiree's retirement allowance was arbitrary, capricious and contrary to law, the Appellate Division unanimously reversed the ruling “on the law” and dismissed proceeding brought pursuant to CPLR Article 78.

Administrative Code §13-249 provides that a retired Chief of Department is entitled to a retirement allowance consisting of both an annuity and a pension that will effectively make the retirement allowance equal to two-thirds of the retiree's salary.*

The Appellate Division said that the plain language of §13-249, states that a retiring Chief of Department's "accumulated deductions," are not subject to "any decrease resulting from withdrawals, loans, optional modifications . . .." The statute, however, is silent with respect to computations of the "pension" portion of the retirement allowance.

Accordingly, said the court, a retiring Chief's receiving the full two-thirds retirement allowance may be affected by his or her choice of options under Administrative Code §13-261 whereby “if any retiree exercises an option to designate a beneficiary to receive a portion of his retirement allowance, then his retirement allowance will be reduced accordingly.”

The Appellate Division then held that “no fair reading of Administrative Code §13-249 … leads to the conclusion that the ‘pension’ portion of [retiring Chief’s] retirement allowance would not be subject to a reduction based on the selection of an option in which a beneficiary is designated under Administrative Code §13-261.”

* Section 13-249 also provides instruction as to the computation of the "annuity portion" of the retirement allowance.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

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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