Terminating an employee during a disciplinary probation period
Fortner v NYC Dept. of Corrections, 280 A.D.2d 381
In many cases disciplinary charges are "settled" by the employee agreeing to serve a "disciplinary probationary period." The majority of such settlements set out the terms and conditions of the probation and typically provide for the termination of the individual without any further hearing if he or she violates the terms of the settlement.
Steven T. Fortner was serving a disciplinary probation period following the settlement of disciplinary charges that had been filed against him by the New York City Department of Corrections.
The department terminated him, contending that "he violated the terms of his limited probation as set forth in his negotiated plea agreement."
Fortner sued, alleging that he had been terminated in bad faith. The court disagreed, finding that Fortner produced no evidence to support his claim that his dismissal was motivated by bad faith.
Fortner had also asked the court to annul his termination and have the matter remitted to the Department "for reconsideration of the sanction."
The Appellate Division decided that such action was not appropriate under the circumstances since Fortner's termination did not "shock the judicial conscience."
Further, said the court, terminating Fortner for violating the terms of his disciplinary probationary period did not constitute an abuse of discretion on the part of the appointing authority.
The lesson here is that the courts will sustain the termination of an individual serving a disciplinary probation period without a hearing if the employee is discharged for violating or failing to comply with the terms of the disciplinary probation agreed upon.
Suppose the court finds that the employee's termination was inconsistent with the terms and conditions of his or her disciplinary probationary period?
As the Taylor decision indicates [Taylor v Cass, 505 NYS2d 929], in such a situation the individual will be reinstated with back salary.
The Taylor court determined that under the terms of Taylor's disciplinary probation, he could be terminated without any hearing if, in the opinion of his superior, Taylor's job performance was "adversely affected" by his "intoxication on the job."
The court said the appointing authority gave two reasons for it terminating Taylor for violating the terms of his disciplinary probationary period:
1. Taylor's "failing to give a fair day's work"; and
2. Taylor's "sleeping during scheduled working hours."
However, the court found that Taylor's termination was improper because Taylor was not terminated for the sole reason specified in the settlement: his intoxication on the job adversely affecting his performance of the job.
Sometimes the disciplinary probation established resulting from the settlement of the disciplinary action does not limit the appointing authority's discretion in terminating the employee. The Wright case demonstrates such a situation.
In Wright v City of New York, 596 NYS2d 372, the Appellate Division ruled that an employee who had agreed to a disciplinary probation in settlement of disciplinary charges filed against him that provided that his probation status would be the same as any other probationary employee was not entitled to a pre-termination hearing when he was dismissed because of subsequent incidents.
In other words, under the terms of Wright's disciplinary probation he was treated as a "new employee" and he could be summarily terminated for any lawful reason.
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