September 17, 2010

Salary determinations by political subdivisions of the State

Salary determinations by political subdivisions of the State
Kent v Town of Niskayuna, Appellate Division, 244 AD2d 829

Peter E. Kent, Commissioner of Public Works for the Town of Niskayuna in Schenectady County, anticipated receiving an increase in his compensation as a Grade 27 employee in accordance with the salary table set out in the Town's employee handbook. But the Town decided to (1) change some of his duties and responsibilities and (2) eliminate all salary grades 26 and higher from the salary table effective January 1, 1996. As a result, Kent's 1996 salary was set at the salary rate for a "Grade 25, Step 5" employee instead of the salary for "Grade 27, Step 4" as he expected.

When his grievance seeking compensation at Grade 27, Step 4 was rejected by the Town, Kent sued. He contended that the Town did not have the authority to reduce the salary grade of his position and its action was arbitrary and capricious. A Supreme Court justice agreed and ordered the Town to reinstate Kent to the Grade 27 level with back pay "due to the [Town's] failure to comply with Civil Service Law Section 75 before it adjusted [Kent's] salary." However, the Appellate Division overturned that ruling.

The Appellate Division said that the authority to fix the salary of a town employee had been delegated to the town board employing the employee [Section 27, Town Law]. Citing Stetter v Amherst, 46 AD2d 1006, the Appellate Division observed that "courts will not interfere with the actions of such legislative bodies or inquire into their underlying motives 'absent fraud, corruption or oppression.'"

The Court decided that the Town presented evidence "indicating a need to tend to budgetary concerns." This, "coupled with the changes [in Kent's responsibilities and Kent's] failure to sustain a showing that the [Town's] action was done in contravention of, or in an attempt to circumvent, the protections afforded by Civil Service Law Section 75," provided substantial evidence supporting the Town's action.

The lesson here is that a municipal public employer may reallocate a position to a different salary grade consistent with the duties and responsibilities of the position provided its action is supported by substantial evidence and is neither arbitrary nor capricious. The employee has the burden of persuading the courts to the contrary.

It should be remembered that Kent was a municipal employee. The classification and allocation of positions in the service of the State to a salary grade, and the reclassification and reallocation of such positions, is controlled by Article 8 of the Civil Service Law.

Article 8, however, does not apply to classification and allocation of positions established by a political subdivision of the State.
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