Individual terminated based on a defective disciplinary decision by the appointing authority entitled to reinstatement with back pay
Ernst v Saratoga County, Appellate Division, 251 A.D.2d 866
Saratoga County filed disciplinary charges against Donald P. Ernst, its director of data processing, alleging misconduct and incompetency based on complaints of sexual harassment filed by a number of women supervised by Ernst.
Ernst was found guilty of the charges and the County Board dismissed him from his position effective December 20, 1994. The Appellate Division, however, annulled the determination. The court said that one of the County’s officials [Sullivan] “improperly participated in the final determination” and there was no evidence “that the members of the Board had an opportunity to review the [disciplinary hearing] record” before making its decision. It returned the matter to the Board for a redetermination (Ernst v Saratoga County, 234 AD2d 764).
Each member of the Board then reviewed the hearing record and, without Sullivan’s participation, on February 25, 1997 voted to terminate Ernst retroactive to December 20, 1994. The Board also rejected Ernst’s claim for back salary for the period December 20, 1996 through February 25, 1997.
Ernst appealed, contending that:
1. The decision to terminate him was arbitrary and capricious; and
2. He was entitled to back salary.
The Appellate Division upheld the Board’s determination dismissing Ernst from his position, ruling that the record contained substantial evidence supporting the Board’s decision. In addition, the court concluded that the penalty imposed met the Pell standard [Pell v Board of Education, 34 NY2d 222] as it was “not shocking to one’s sense of fairness” in view of the offenses for which Ernst was found guilty.
The question of back salary and benefits, however, was another matters. Here the court decided that Ernst was entitled to back salary for the period from his initial termination in 1994 and his subsequent termination in 1997 “less any compensation derived from other employment during that period and any unemployment insurance benefits received for that period.”*
According to the ruling, “a proper termination cannot be extended retroactively to cover a prior period of termination annulled due to procedural failures.”
* NB: In 1985 Section 77 of the Civil Service Law was amended eliminating the deduction for “compensation derived from other employment” upon reinstatement by court order. The same is true with respect to reinstatements directed by a civil service commission pursuant to Section 76 of the Civil Service Law. In contrast, back pay issues are unlikely to arise in disciplinary actions brought pursuant to Section 3020-a of the Education Law as that statute provides that such disciplinary suspensions must be with pay unless (1) the individual has been convicted or entered a guilty plea in a criminal action involving drugs or the physical or sexual abuse of a minor or student or (2) a Taylor Law agreement permits disciplinary suspensions without pay upon the serving of Section 3020-a charges.
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