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Friday, September 21, 2018

Employer failed to prove the disciplinary charges and specifications filed against the employee by a preponderance of the credible evidence


Employer failed to prove the disciplinary charges and specifications filed against the employee by a preponderance of the credible evidence
New York Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, OATH Index No. 181/18

A correction captain was charged with using unauthorized force against an inmate and making false statements.

The inmate claimed that he was secured and not resisting when the captain jabbed him with his baton; the captain and the escort officer contended that the inmate was unsecured and struggling with the officer when the captain jabbed him. A surveillance video of the incident was not produced at trial because the Department failed to preserve it and it was purged.

The investigator, based upon review of the video and witness statements, concluded that the inmate was not resisting and the force used by the captain was unauthorized.

OATH Administrative Law Judge Joycelyn McGeachy-Kuls, however,  recommended dismissal of the charges, finding that the captain’s testimony was more credible than the inmate’s, which contained unsubstantiated allegations regarding his injuries and of being placed in a chokehold. Further, the ALJ found that the investigator’s report contained significant inconsistencies, inaccuracies and omissions, which called its reliability into question. Judge McGeachy-Kuls viewed the department for failing to preserve the video as a "negative inference"

The employer's failure to preserve the video tape referred to in this decision might be viewed as an aspect of "spoliation of evidence." Spoliation of evidence is the destruction or alteration of evidence that makes it unavailable for use in a judicial or quasi-judicial proceeding. Spoliation is presumed to be damaging to the spoliator's interest with respect to proving its claims or defenses when it is intentionally changed, modified, deleted or destroyed.

In Burke v Queen of Heaven R.C. Elementary Sch., 151 AD3d 1608, the Appellate Division addressed allegations of spoilation of evidence, noting that "Where the evidence is determined to have been intentionally or wil[l]fully destroyed, the relevancy of the destroyed [evidence] is presumed."

In contrast, in Thomas v Mt. Vernon P.D., 249 A.D.2d 483, motion to appeal denied, 94 N.Y.2d 763, the employee contended that the appointing authority  failed to preserve tape recordings of telephone calls that an employee believed would helpful to the employee's defense in a disciplinary hearing.

The Appellate Division found that the record failed to show that the loss of this tape was due to bad faith on the part of the appointing authority and that the tapes in question were routinely reused after 30 days, which was “well before any disciplinary charges were brought against the individual." The court also noted that “contrary to [the employee's] contention that the tape recording was the best evidence as to whether the subject telephone call was ever made, direct evidence on that issue was offered at the hearing from the alleged parties to the conversation."

Addressing the false statement charge brought against the correction captain, the ALJ said that the charge was based upon the captain’s report on the number of jab strikes against the inmate as “one or two” in one instance and “several” in another. At the disciplinary hearing the captain explained that he believed several to mean an unspecified number. ALJ McGeachy-Kuls recommended dismissal of the charge, finding the language to be imprecise, but not false or misleading.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:




 

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Determining the validity of an employee's "release of claims" against an employer


Determining the validity of an employee's "release of claims" against an employer
Charlery v New York City Department of Education, USCA, Second Circuit, Docket No. 17-1888

Jacqueline Charlery filed an action against the City of New York Department of Education, Board of Education of the City School District of the City of New York [Education] alleging claims for unlawful discrimination and retaliation in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act. Education filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings, converted by the district court, after giving notice to the parties, into a motion for summary judgment.

The court then found that Charlery had released her federal discrimination and retaliation claims in an agreement settling an earlier personal injury lawsuit against Education, granted Education's motion and entered judgment in Education's favor. Charlery appealed the district court's action.

With respect to the effect of a "release" entered into in the course of judicial proceeding, the Circuit Court, citing Livingston v Adirondack Beverage Co., 141 F.3d 434, explained that “[T]he validity of a release is a peculiarly fact-sensitive inquiry.”

Noting that in Charlery's alleged release appearing directly above the signature line is language stating “THE UNDERSIGNED HAS READ THE FOREGOING RELEASE AND FULLY UNDERSTANDS IT”, the Circuit Court said that “[w]e employ a ‘totality of the circumstances’ test to determine whether a release of . . . claims is knowing and voluntary,” explaining that the relevant factors courts should consider include:

(1) the plaintiff’s education and business experience,
(2) the amount of time the plaintiff had possession of or access to the agreement before signing it,
(3) the role of plaintiff in deciding the terms of the agreement,
(4) the clarity of the agreement,
(5) whether the plaintiff was represented by or consulted with an attorney, and
(6) whether the consideration given in exchange for the waiver exceeds employee benefits to which the employee was already entitled by contract or law.

The Circuit Court opined that "The district court did not err when assessing these factors and concluding that Charlery’s waiver was knowing and voluntary."

Analyzing the first five factors listed above, the court noted that "Charlery, being a teacher, is a well-educated, trained professional." However, said the court, the time and role she played in deciding its terms - weigh in favor of a finding that the waiver was not knowing and voluntary. Although Charlery stated that she had read the agreement and signed the release the same day she received it and although she was represented by counsel in the settlement of the lawsuit, she played no role in negotiating the terms of the release.

However, continued the Circuit Court, the clarity of the agreement favors a finding that the waiver was knowing and voluntary as the agreement stated that Charlery was releasing Education from “any and all claims” for “any matter, cause or thing whatsoever that occurred through the date” the release was executed as Charlery was represented by counsel in that lawsuit.

The sixth factor, said the court, was inapplicable to this case because Charlery had not claimed that she was entitled by contract or law to receive "benefits" and  the issues involved alleged federal discrimination and retaliation claims.

Balancing the totality of the circumstances, the Circuit Court concluded "as the district court did," that in executing the release Charlery knowingly and voluntary waived her federal discrimination and retaliation claims and held that the district court did not err when it entered summary judgment in favor of Education on Charlery's federal claims.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Recent decisions by Administrative Law Judges of the New York Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings


Recent decisions by Administrative Law Judges of the New York Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings
Source: OATH

Underperforming assigned tasks
OATH Index No. 2077/17

An associate retirement benefits examiner was charged with incompetence for failing to complete the required daily number of cases. ALJ Noel R. Garcia found that the examiner was required to complete an average of three cases per day, but only averaged less than one case per day over a ten month period. He concluded that the examiner was consistently unable to perform her fundamental responsibilities. 30-day suspension recommended, agency imposed a 25-day suspension

The decision is posted on the Internet at:


Refusal to obey a supervisor's lawful order
OATH Index No. 926/1

ALJ John B. Spooner recommended a 15-day suspension for a job opportunity specialist who was insubordinate and discourteous towards a supervisor. The employee refused to obey an order to process benefits, and he threw paper and gestured with his fist at the supervisor. This conduct caused the supervisor, who suffered from a stroke-related disability, to request early retirement to avoid similar encounters which could adversely affect her health. 

The decision is posted on the Internet at:


Delay in addressing alleged misconduct denied employee an opportunity to correct his or her conduct
OATH Index No. 1420/17

A sanitation supervisor was charged with failing to carry out his supervisory responsibilities, failing to accurately prepare, record and maintain information, and with failing to cooperate with an official inquiry. ALJ Kara J. Miller found that many of the charges involved incidents that occurred five to six years ago, which ultimately deprived the supervisor of an opportunity to correct his conduct because petitioner did not timely address the alleged misconduct. ALJ Miller sustained some of the charges, finding that the supervisor failed to accept responsibility.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:


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