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October 28, 2010

Appealing a disciplinary termination

Appealing a disciplinary termination
Stevens v McGraw CSD, 261 AD2d 698, motion for leave to appeal denied, 93 NY2d 816

McGraw Central bus driver Arthur Stevens’ failure to comply with Education Law Section 3813 proved fatal to his challenging his dismissal from his position following a disciplinary hearing pursuant to Section 75 of the Civil Service Law.

Section 75 disciplinary charges were filed against Stevens alleging that he permitted unacceptable behavior on his bus, was absent without leave, inaccurately reported his work time, and failed to comply with his supervisor’s directives as well as with district rules and procedures.

The hearing officer found Stevens guilty of seven of the charges preferred against him and recommended that he be discharged. The district accepted the hearing officer’s findings and recommendation.

When Stevens challenged his termination, the district raised the technical defense that he had failed to comply with notice requirements set out in Section 3813 of the Education Law.

Section 3813 requires that the individual, before going to court, give the school district an opportunity to respond. The individual must file an affidavit that the district was given timely notice of the claim and that it failed to act within 30 days of such notice.

The Appellate Division affirmed a lower court’s ruling dismissing Stevens’ Article 78 action, holding that “the mere fact that he seeks only reinstatement to his former position, as opposed to reinstatement coupled with back pay and benefits, does not exempt him from the requirements of Education Law Section 3813, as a review of the petition makes clear that [Stevens] nonetheless primarily is seeking to enforce a private right.”

Section 76 of the Civil Service Law gives a person found guilty of charges brought pursuant to Section 75 a statutory right to appeal the penalty imposed to the responsible civil service commission or, in the alternative, to the courts pursuant to Section 78 of the CPLR. However, the Appellate Division’s ruling in Stevens holds that an employee of a school district or a BOCES, as a condition precedent to his or her filing an Article 78 appeal challenging the disciplinary action, must file a timely notice of claim with the district or BOCES.

In contrast, in Sephton v Board of Education of the City of New York, 99 AD2d 509, the Appellate Division ruled that “the ‘tenure rights’ of teachers are ... considered a matter in the public interest and therefore Section 3813 is not applicable to cases seeking to enforce such rights.”

Presumably this means that although a teacher who is terminated for cause pursuant to Section 3020-a of the Education Law is not required to file a notice of claim as a condition precedent to his or her filing an appeal pursuant to Article 75 of the CPLR, [see Education Law Section 3020-a.5], a school district employee in the classified service who is terminated after a Section 75 hearing must satisfy the requirements of Section 3813 in order to file an Article 78 action challenging the disciplinary action.

It would seem that the fact that the Civil Service Law provides an aggrieved employee with a statutory right to appeal an adverse disciplinary action to a civil service commission or to the courts should have the same standing with respect to such an employee’s “tenure rights” as does Section 3020-a.5 insofar as the “tenure rights” of educators are concerned.

Another type of case in which the school district attempted to invoke the provisions of Section 3813 involved a teacher’s application for retroactive membership in a public retirement system pursuant to Section 803 of the Retirement and Social Security Law.

In Elmsford UFSD v Alfred G. Meyer, (Supreme Court, Albany County), State Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kane rejected the district’s argument that the employee’s application had to be dismissed because he failed to file a timely Section 3813(1) claim with the school district, citing Matter of DeMeurers, 243 AD2d 54, motion for leave to appeal denied, 92 NY2d 807.

While it appears that exceptions to the Section 3813 “notice of claim” requirement exist, it would seem prudent for an aggrieved party to file a timely notice of claim with a school district as set out in Section 3813 rather than try to persuade a court that it was not necessary to do so in a particular situation at some later date.
NYPPL

Public Personnel Law E-books

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