December 07, 2010

Fruits of an undercover investigation used as a basis for disciplinary charges

Fruits of an undercover investigation used as a basis for disciplinary charges
DiGiovanni v Safir277 AD2d 36

May the appointing authority bring disciplinary action against an employee based on information obtained from undercover police officers. As the DiGiovanni decision indicates, such information can serve as a basis for filing disciplinary charges against an individual.

In this instance an undercover police officer and her supervisor testified that George DiGiovanni approached a police decoy and proposed oral sex for a fee.

DiGiovanni, as it turned out, was a New York City police officer. As a result of this episode, he was served with administrative disciplinary charges. The hearing officer found him guilty of soliciting sex and imposed the penalty of dismissal. DiGiovanni appealed only to have the Appellate Division unanimously affirm both the administrative determination that he was guilty of the charges filed against him and penalty imposed.

The Appellate Division decided that the evidence presented at the disciplinary hearing supported the finding that DiGiovanni was guilty of soliciting sex for money from a person believed by him to be a prostitute.

Turning to DiGiovanni’s objection to his being dismissed from his position, the court said that "[g]iven the gravity of the offense and [DiGiovanni’s] prior disciplinary history, the penalty imposed does not shock our conscience."

The court’s reference to DiGiovanni’s prior disciplinary history suggests that the department asked the hearing officer to consider DiGiovanni’s personnel history in determining the penalty to be imposed.

An employee’s personnel records may be considered by a hearing officer when the setting a disciplinary penalty provided the appointing authority has complied with the procedures set out by the Court of Appeals in Bigelow v Village of Gouverneur, 63 NY2d 470. The procedures to be followed in order to satisfy the Bigelow test:

1. The employee must be advised that his or her prior disciplinary record will be considered in setting the penalty to be imposed; and

2. The employee must be given an opportunity to submit a written response to any adverse material contained in the record or offer mitigating circumstances.
NYPPL

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