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June 21, 2010

Disciplinary probation

Disciplinary probation
Feliciano v Safir, Supreme Court, [Not officially reported]
Garnett v Safir, 253 A.D.2d 700, Motion for leave to appeal denied, 92 N.Y.2d 817

The Feliciano Case:

Although the specific events underlying the Feliciano case are but rarely encountered, the decision demonstrates that an employee’s “disciplinary probation status” may follow the individual to a new agency upon his or her transfer if the new employer wishes to condition the approval of the transfer on the continuation in such status.

Nelson Feliciano became a New York City police officer when the New York City Transit Authority Police Department [TAPD] was merged with the New York City Police Department [NYPD] in April 1995. Feliciano was serving a “dismissal probation” as a result of his settlement of disciplinary charges that had been filed against him by TAPD when the merger took place.

NYPD required Feliciano to sign a waiver allowing it to assume jurisdiction over the disciplinary charges as a condition of his transfer to NYPD.

NYPD dismissed Feliciano effective October 30, 1997 without holding a pre-termination hearing because of his alleged misuse of sick leave.

Feliciano had called in sick on April 30, 1997. When an officer from the NYPD’s Absence Control and Investigations Unit (“ACIU”) appeared at Feliciano’s house at about 2:00 p.m. the next day, “Feliciano was inexplicably not at home.”

Feliciano called the ACIU and represented to one of the ACIU officers that he had a valid medical pass which excused his absence from his home between the hours of 4:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. through May 1, 1997. Upon checking, ACIU learned that Feliciano’s medical pass expired on April 23, 1997. When confronted with this information, Feliciano apologized for his “misstatement” about the validity of his medical pass. Ultimately NYPD dismissed Feliciano.

Claiming that “[w]ithout the waiver, the disciplinary matter could have been resolved in a much more favorable manner and ... [he] would not have been on probation,” Feliciano sued. He asked the court to order his reinstatement with back salary and benefits. In addition Feliciano contended that [1] Safir acted arbitrarily and capriciously by dismissing him without benefit of a pre-termination hearing; [2] the penalty imposed was excessive; and [3] the decision to terminate him was made in bad faith.

Justice Cozier dismissed Feliciano’s petition, noting that “[u]nless there is a demonstration of bad faith or a constitutionally or statutorily impermissible purpose, the Commissioner has broad discretion to terminate probationary employees at any time, without stating a reason, and without a pre-termination hearing.”

The decision notes that Feliciano failed to comply with sick-leave regulations, an infraction which was subject to summary dismissal. As Feliciano had abused the NYPD’s sick leave regulations, which go directly to his ability to perform his job duties in a satisfactory manner, Justice Cozier concluded that because Feliciano was a probationer, a pre-termination hearing was not required and ruled Feliciano’s dismissal from his position with NYPD lawful under the circumstances.


The Garrett Case:

The facts in the Garrett case are more typical of the disciplinary probation situations.

Renee Garrett, another New York City police officer, was found guilty of various disciplinary charges and was suspended without pay for 60 days. She was also placed on a “one-year disciplinary probationary dismissal” effective January 24, 1997. On July 9, 1997, the Commissioner terminated her.

According to the decision, Garrett’s disciplinary probation was imposed after she was found guilty following allegations that [1] she was absent without permission from her assigned post; [2] she failed to perform her duties as directed; and [3] she engaged in an oral altercation and was discourteous to a superior officer.

Garrett sued, challenging the underlying disciplinary action and penalty and, in addition, contending that she was unlawfully terminated as a probationer and that she was dismissed in bad faith.*

The Appellate Division, First Department, upheld Garrett’s dismissal, commenting that “her termination within the probationary period was validly premised upon misconduct predating the commencement of the probationary period.” It noted that she had been found guilty of charges filed against her and that “the penalty of probationary dismissal does not shock our sense of fairness, particularly in light of [Garrett’s] less than exemplary service record.”

The court then said that Garrett’s probationary termination was justified by an incident during the probationary period. According to the decision, Garrett was “late in relieving another officer from her post.”

Accordingly, Garrett had no right to a pre-termination hearing under the circumstances. As to Garrett’s claim that her termination was made in “bad faith,” the Appellate Division simply noted that “there is no credible evidence to support [her] allegations.”

* Garrett had challenged both the disciplinary determination of January 24, 1997 and her probationary termination of July 9, 1997. Both actions were consolidated and considered in this appeal.

The text of the opinion is at:
http://nypublicpersonnellawarchives.blogspot.com/2008/01/disciplinary-probation.html

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If you are interested in learning more about disciplinary procedures involving public officers and employees, please click here: http://thedisciplinebook.blogspot.com/
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