September 13, 2010

Through investigation of allegations of misconduct prior to initiating disciplinary action critical

Through investigation of allegations of misconduct prior to initiating disciplinary action critical
Michaelis v State, New York State Supreme Court, [Not selected for publication in the Official Reports, affd., 258 A.D.2d 693]

The Michaelis case illustrates the importance of an employer thoroughly investigating allegations before serving disciplinary charges against an employee.

A jury awarded back salary and damages to Kenneth Michaelis for “emotional suffering” because it decided that the employer had not “thoroughly investigated” before disciplining him.

Michaelis was one of two white deputy superintendents employed at a New York State Department of Corrections facility who were demoted for allegedly subjecting an African-American deputy superintendent to “ridicule or racially insensitive comments.”

Michaelis was charged with placing a “jail bird” figure on the door of an African-American co-worker Frank Irvin. Irvin viewed Michaelis’ action “racist” and submitted a complaint to the Department.

The Appellate Division had allowed Michaelis’ lawsuit against the New York State Department of Correctional Services to heard by a jury when it sustained a lower court’s refusal to dismiss his complaint [see 244 A.D.2d 636]. Michaelis’ suit alleged that the Department had imposed a more severe disciplinary penalty on him than it had on others who committed similar acts or omissions.

Michaels contended this harsher treatment was because of his race, and that this violated the State’s Human Rights Law. He maintained that he had been subjected to “reverse discrimination” when he was disciplined because of what he contended was “harmless prank.”

The jury decided that Michaelis had been disciplined by the Department without it first having “thoroughly investigated allegations of racism” directed against him. The award: $238,000 as back wages plus $90,000 for “emotional suffering” was sustained by the Appellate Division.

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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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