September 13, 2010

Retaliating against employees for political activity

Retaliating against employees for political activity
Richardson v Saratoga Springs, App Div, 246 A.D.2d 900

Scott Richardson, one of two “city electricians” employed by the Saratoga Springs Department of Public Works, supported his brother-in-law in a political race against the City’s incumbent Commissioner of Public Works. After the incumbent won, Richardson sued, alleging that the City had retaliated against him for his political activities by:

1. Transferring some of his duties to a co-worker, Vincent Arpey; and

2. Discontinuing his de facto status as supervisor of the entire electrical crew.

He cited Section 107 of the Civil Service Law, which provides, in pertinent part, that political opinions or affiliations may not be a consideration in the “appointment or selection to or removal from an office or employment” (or in the discharge or promotion or reduction, or in any manner change in the official rank or compensation) of an individual whose position is subject to the Civil Service Law.”

The Appellate Division agreed, holding a jury trial was needed to determine whether Saratoga Springs violated this section of the law when it made a personnel decision that was “affected or influenced by” an employee’s political opinion or affiliation. “[A] reasonable factfinder could conclude that [Richardson] was discriminated against because of his political activities outside of working hours.”

The Court said discrimination could explain why Richardson’s was denied “a promotion and concomitant salary increase -- ‘for constitutionally impermissible reasons,’ namely, because of his off-duty political activities.” The fact that an independent consultant actually recommended the reclassification was, according to the ruling, of little significance “where, as here, it can be inferred that those actions were the direct consequence of the changes in the electricians’ work duties “affected or influenced by” the Commissioner.”
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