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November 18, 2010

Employee dismissed for altering the value of his paycheck

Employee dismissed for altering the value of his paycheck
Local 375 v NYC Health & Hospital Corp., 257 AD2d 530

Jose Hernandez was charged with changing a “3” on his pay check into an “8,” “significantly enhancing the putative value of the check.” Hernandez explained that the change was caused by his inadvertent “doodling.”

A disciplinary arbitrator found him guilty of altering the value of the amount of the check payable to him, concluding that “Hernandez’s consistent conduct [with respect to attempting to cash the check or have it reissued in the “forged amount”] evinced an effort to benefit from an alteration concededly made by him.” Hernandez was terminated and his union, Local 375, appealed.

A State Supreme Court justice, finding some inconsistencies in the arbitrator’s findings and that criminal charges concerning the same allegations had been dismissed,* vacated the award on the grounds that the arbitrator had exceed her authority.

The Appellate Division reversed and reinstating the arbitrator’s determination. It noted that Section 7511 of the Civil Practice Law and Rules allows an arbitration award to be vacated only in situations such as “fraud, corruption or bias of the arbitrator” or a procedural violation by the arbitrator, or in the event the arbitrator exceeds his or her authority, none of which were present here.

The court said that it found no basis to set the arbitration award aside “notwithstanding the explainable absence of the check and some possible inconsistencies in the arbitrator’s findings.** It commented that the lower court’s conclusions “amount to no more than impermissible second-guessing these factual findings.”

* In Kelly v. Levin, 440 NYS2d 424, the court ruled that is reversible error for an administrative disciplinary body to acquit an employee if the individual has been found guilty of a criminal act involving the same allegations. In contrast, an individual may be found guilty of charges in an administrative disciplinary hearing notwithstanding the fact that he or she may have been acquitted of criminal charges involving the same allegations. The reason for this is that the standard of proof required to prove guilt in a criminal proceeding is more rigorous than that in an administrative disciplinary proceeding. In a criminal case, the standard is “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” while in an administrative disciplinary action the standard of proof is the less demanding “substantial evidence” test. In an administrative proceeding, “substantial evidence” will support a finding that the individual is guilty of the disciplinary charge or charges. In some case, however, the standard used to determine guilt applied in an administrative disciplinary action is the even less demanding “preponderance of the evidence” test [see Martin v Ambach, 67 NY2d 975].

** Criminal charges had been filed against Hernandez. The altered check, however, “was destroyed in the normal course of events” by the District Attorney after forgery charges brought against him were dismissed and thus the item could not be introduced as evidence at the disciplinary administrative hearing.
NYPPL

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