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Thursday, October 06, 2011

Termination of an employee during a probationary period or traineeship

Termination of an employee during a probationary period or traineeship
Dasey v Anderson, CA1, 304 F.3d 148

What are the rules governing the dismissal of a person permanent appointed to his or her position during his or her probationary period?

Are the same principles applied in cases involving an individual who is required to satisfactorily complete a traineeship as a condition of employment?

The Dasey case provides an opportunity to consider these questions.

The individual was dismissed from his position as a probationary state trooper on the grounds that he made a material misstatement in his employment application.

According to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' decision, the individual had satisfactorily completed his training at the Massachusetts State Police Academy and was enlisted as a probationary uniformed member of the Massachusetts State Police [MSP]. In the course of completing his employment application for State Trooper, the trooper stated that he did not use illegal drugs and, during the preceding five-year period, had not "used, possessed, supplied or manufactured any illegal drugs."

On September 14, 1999, while the trooper was still in probationary status, MSP's review of a videotape that had been seized by state troopers while executing a search warrant in an unrelated homicide investigation. The videotape "revealed Dasey and others apparently smoking marijuana." MSP deemed Dasey as having made a false material statement when he denied prior drug use during the application process and he was given a "general discharge" from the MSP effective close of business September 14, 1999.

Dasey sued MSP, claiming it had violated federal and state laws by failing to provide him with a pre-termination hearing. A federal district court judge granted MSP's motion for summary judgment dismissing Dasey's petition, explaining that while in probationary status Dasey had no reasonable expectation of continued employment and thus he had no constitutionally protected property interest in his job. The Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court's ruling.

Dasey also contended that he was entitled to a hearing was based on a provision in the collective bargaining agreement [CBA] negotiated by the MSP and the union. The CBA included a "bargained-for extension of the right to a pre-termination hearing" to all troopers. In response to this argument the Circuit Court of Appeals held that:

Because neither the collective bargaining agreement nor the MSP's customs and practices provided Dasey with a reasonable expectation of continued employment, he had no constitutionally protected property interest in his job. Absent such an interest, he had no right to a pre-termination hearing.

The general rule in New York State is that a permanent appointee whose employment is subject to the disciplinary provisions set out in Section 75 of the Civil Service Law is entitled to notice and hearing before he or she may be terminated for disciplinary reasons. While serving his or her probationary period, however, an individual permanently appointed to such a position may be dismissed without notice and hearing for any lawful reason after he or she has completed the minimum period of probation and prior to the end of his or her maximum period of probation.

In contrast, if the appointing authority wishes to dismiss a probationary employee before he or she has completed the minimum period of probation, the courts have held that the individual is entitled to notice and a pre-termination hearing.

Another factor might be relevant in cases of probationary employment - traineeship requirements.
In Franks v South Beach Psychiatric Center, Supreme Court, Richmond County, the interrelationship between temporary service, permanent appointment, trainee status and probation was considered.

Franks had been appointed as a Mental Hygiene Therapy Aide Trainee. This appointment involved the satisfactory completion of a one-year training period.

Because of outstanding preferred lists, Franks was initially appointed to his position as a temporary employee pending canvass of the preferred lists and he commenced his "traineeship" in the position. On January 21, 1984, some three months later, Franks was "permanently appointed" to the position, subject to the successful completion of a 52-week probationary period.

On January 2, 1985 Franks was terminated from his position without any hearing because of his alleged failure to satisfactorily complete the probationary period.

Franks claimed that his period of probation had to coincide with his training period and since he had completed his training period in October 1984, he was not a probationary employee at the time of his termination. Accordingly, he argued, he could not be discharged without notice and hearing.

The Appellate Division ruled that there was no merit to Franks' argument. Why? Because, explained the court, under the controlling probationary rules, the probationary period for a trainee is from 26 to 52 weeks or the length of the training period, which ever is longer. As Frank's permanent appointment did not become effective until January 21, 1984, (at which time he was still a trainee) his 52-week probationary period would not end until January 20, 1985. Accordingly, his termination without any hearing on January 2, 1985, was made while he was still a probationary employee and was therefore lawful.

The Franks decision supports the proposition that a traineeship and the probationary period are two different conditions of employment For example, a trainee may be serving as a provisional employee, complete the traineeship, and later take and pass the required examination and subsequently be appointed on a permanent basis.

His or her required probationary period pursuant to Section 63 of the Civil Service Law would commence upon the individual's permanent appointment to the position, notwithstanding the fact that he or she may have already successfully completed the required traineeship.

By the same token, if a traineeship extends beyond the probationary period, the individual may be subject to termination without notice and hearing if he or she fails to complete the traineeship satisfactorily.

Another case that distinguishes between probationary status and traineeship status is Sergeants v Brooklyn Developmental Center, 56 NY2d 628.

In Sergeants, a number of probationary employees were terminated at the end of their respective probationary periods. They sued for reinstatement contending that they had not been provided with the 200 hours of training required by department regulations.

Dismissing their appeal, the Court of Appeals first affirmed the principle that "... the employment of a probationary employee may be terminated at the end of the probationary term without a hearing and without specific reasons being stated."

The court then rejected Sergeants' "traineeship argument," commenting that the mandated training involved would not have addressed the particular demonstrations of poor performance leading to their respective terminations. The evidence in the record, said the court, indicated that the poor performance was related "to fitness for the position" rather than job performance elements that the training provided for by regulation could remedy.

Among the examples of poor performance cited by the court were sleeping on the job, habitual lateness, unscheduled absence, failure to perform overtime assignments and similar poor work habits.

The decision also indicated that the only issue for review was whether the appointing officer acted in good faith in terminating the employee.

The lesson here: Satisfactory completion of probation and satisfactory completion of a traineeship are two different requirements that must be met by the appointee and he or she must satisfy both in order for a permanent appointee to be continued in service.
Where the successful completion of a traineeship is required in order to be continued in service, however, that condition should be communicated to the individual in the examination announcement or in the offer of his or her appointment to the position.

As to the authority for requiring the completion of a traineeship, the rules of the State Civil Service Commission concerning traineeships are set out in 4 NYCRR 4.3 and provide as follows:

Section 4.3 Trainee appointments and promotions. The Civil Service Department may require that permanent appointments or promotions to designated positions shall be conditioned upon the satisfactory completion of a term of service as a trainee in such a position or in an appropriate, lower, training title or the completion of specified training or academic courses, or both. The period of such term of training service shall be prescribed by the department. Upon the satisfactory completion of such training term, and of specified courses if required, an appointee shall be entitled to full permanent status in the position for which appointment was made. Any appointment hereunder shall be subject to such probationary period as is prescribed in [Section 4.5 of] these rules. Also, the employment of such person may be discontinued at the end of the term of training service if his conduct, capacity or fitness is not satisfactory, or at any time if he fails to pursue or continue satisfactorily such training or academic courses as may be required.

Many municipal civil service commissions have adopted similar rules concerning traineeships.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Light duty assignments involving law enforcement personnel


Light duty assignments involving law enforcement personnel
Cripe v City of San Jose, CA9, 99-15253

The Cripe's case considers the mandates of the Americans With Disabilities Act [ADA] in terms of the obligations of a law enforcement agency to keep disabled police officers in the “main stream” for the purposes of making assignments consistent with the needs of the agency and the abilities of the disabled officer.

The San Jose [California] Police Department has more than 1,300 sworn officers. Officers were assigned to one of three types of positions: beat-patrol assignments; modified-duty assignments -- positions specifically set aside for disabled officers; and specialized assignments. Specialized assignments consist of all sworn officer assignments other than beat-patrol and modified-duty assignments.*About one half of the force work in “beat assignments.”

Six City of San Jose police officers with neck and back injuries that prevented them from serving as patrol officers sued the Department alleging that the Department placed them in “a small number of undesirable positions” and did not consider them for “special assignment” posts. This Department policy, they alleged, violated the ADA.

The Department's response: “public safety would be compromised if officers with physical limitations that prevented them from forcibly arresting suspects were permitted to perform more than the prescribed handful of modified duty jobs that had been made available to them.” According to the Department, the six officers did not qualify as “disabled” within the meaning of the ADA because:

1. They cannot perform the “essential functions” of the positions they seek because they could not effect a forcible arrest or subdue a fleeing suspect;

2. It would impose an “undue hardship” on the City to require it to accommodate the plaintiffs by waiving the disputed policies; and

3. The modified-duty assignment policy is a reasonable accommodation satisfying the ADA's mandate.

The Circuit Court disagreed, holding that the Department's policy violated the ADA. The court said that “relegating [the disabled officers] to unsatisfactory jobs in which they have little or no possibility for promotion simply cannot be reconciled with the ADA's 'clear and comprehensive national mandate' to eliminat[e] ... discrimination against individuals with disabilities.”

The Circuit Court decided that the ADA requires the employer to find ways to bring the disabled into its ranks, even when doing so imposes some costs and burdens. The San Jose Police Department, said the court, must participate in this process, as long as it can do so in a manner that will not compromise public safety.

The crux of the matter: was making a forcible arrests and subduing fleeing suspects an “essential function” of all specialized-assignment positions in the San Jose Police Department. According to the ruling, “an employer may not turn every condition of employment which it elects to adopt into a job function, let alone an essential job function.” The Circuit Court concluded that a requirement that officers be physically capable of making forcible arrests does not reflect an essential function for all specialized assignment police officers.

In other words, the court ruled that the disabled officers were qualified individuals with a disability who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the position that such individuals hold or desire, including, presumably, certain “special assignment.”

As examples, the decision notes that the disabled officers presumably would make good background investigators, good internal affairs investigators, and good recruiters or training officers, assignments that do not typically involve making forcible arrests or subduing fleeing suspects.

The bottom line: the Circuit Court ruled that there is a factual dispute as to whether the ability to make a forcible arrest is an essential function of all the specialized-assignment positions that the disabled officer seek the opportunity to fill, notwithstanding the job descriptions that the Department has prepared. In the words of the court:

We conclude that the [disabled officers] are not categorically unable to perform the essential functions of the “specialized assignments” they seek, even though they may be unable to make forcible arrests and subdue suspects. They are, rather, for purposes of this appeal, “qualified individual[s] with ... disabilit[ies].”

In another light duty case, Champ v Baltimore County, Md., [95-2061], the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit, ruled that a Baltimore County police officer who lost 100% of the use of his left arm was not entitled to a permanent light-duty assignment.

Significantly, the department defined the essential duties of a police officer as including the ability to make a forcible arrest, drive vehicles during an emergency and correctly aim a firearm while using two hands. Officer James Champ, who was severely injured in an off-duty motorcycle accident, could not show that he could perform any of these tasks.

In this unpublished decision, Judges Donald Russell, Sam Ervin III and William Wilkins Jr. said the ADA was not violated when the county placed Champ on disability retirement because he was not able to demonstrate he could perform the essential functions of the job of police officer, with or without reasonable accommodation.

In Stone v City of Mount Vernon, CA2, 96-7976, decided June 30. 1997, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals observed that the proper way to analyze the merits of a claim under the federal disability statutes is to focus on the fundamental job duties of the specific position an individual with a disability desires, rather than on the title .

* Specialized assignments are viewed as very desirable by department personnel. In consideration of this, the Department and San Jose Peace Officers Association negotiated an elaborate procedure for selecting personnel for these preferred jobs.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Constructive termination


Constructive termination
Duffy v Paper Magic Group, Inc., CA3, 265 F.3d 163

It is not enough to that the individual feel stressed or frustrated by his or her job situation to claim constructive discharge. The individual must show the existence of a pattern of “intolerable conduct” to support such a claim.

Bernadine Duffy complained that she was constructively discharged as a result of a continuing pattern of discrimination by Paper Magic. Among the examples of treatment she contended resulted in her constructive discharge were the following:

1. She was “passed over” for a promotion;

2. Her supervisor “bent over backwards” to make another, younger, employee's “life easier.”

3. She worked overtime hours, but unlike other salaried employees, did not receive overtime pay.

4. She was one of two supervisors excluded from a company meeting and from a training seminar for supervisors.

5. Supervisors made derogatory remarks about her age.

Duffy said that she complained about such conduct to her employer but nothing changed. As a result of these working conditions Duffy said that her health deteriorated, requiring her to seek treatment by a physician. Duffy resigned from her position and filed charges of unlawful discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.

In the litigation that followed, the District Court concluded that Duffy failed to demonstrate that she was constructively discharged or otherwise suffered an adverse employment action within the meaning of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act [ADEA] and entered summary judgment in favor of Paper Magic.

The Circuit Court sustained the lower court's action, rejecting Duffy claim that she was constructively discharged because she experienced a “continuous pattern of discriminatory treatment” at Paper Magic.

It appears that Duffy's testimony focused almost entirely on her subjective view that Paper Magic constructively discharged her but she failed to establish any of the situations set out by the Third Circuit in Clowes v Allegheny Valley Hospital, 991 F.2d 1159, suggesting constructive discharge.

Elements that could support a finding of constructive discharge include the employer's threats to fire an employee, encouraging the employee to resign, or involuntarily transferred an individual to a less desirable position.

Among other actions that could support a claim of constructive discharge - the employer is aware that the employee has been subjected to a continuous pattern of harassment and the employer does nothing to stop it.

The court cited Aman v Cort Furniture Rental Corp., 85 F.3d 1074, to illustrate the course of conduct that could be deemed constructive discharge. In Amen the court said that continuously subjecting a black worker to racially-based insults; admonitions “not to touch or steal anything”; being forced to do menial tasks not assigned to white employees; subjecting the individual to actions by co-workers withholding information and stealing documents needed to perform the job; and the employer's threats to “get rid of [the employee].”

These elements were not present in Duffy's case. Her department was understaffed. But management's deliberate delay in providing needed assistance, thereby making her job more difficult, did not make her job impossible. It simply required her to work longer hours until help arrived, making her job more stressful, but not unbearable. In the words of the court, “employees are not guaranteed stress-free environments and discrimination laws cannot be transformed into a palliative for every workplace grievance, real or imagined, by the simple expedient of quitting.”

The Circuit Court also ruled that Duffy's attempt to use her physician's opinion that her job had an adverse affect upon her health to bolster her claim that her working conditions were intolerable also fails. These health problems support an inference that Duffy's environment was stressful. Again, leaving a stressful environment does not amount to constructive discharge.

Duffy's own explanation as to why she resigned, said that her decision was based, in part, on her son's recent graduation from college and her resultant financial ability to leave. This, said court, “supports our conclusion that [Duffy] was not constructively discharged.”

The Circuit Court decided that Duffy had not produce evidence from which a reasonable jury could find an adverse employment action -- a prerequisite to a successful age discrimination claim -- and affirmed the District Court's summary judgment.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Resignation from a position in the public service must be in writing

Resignation from a position in the public service must be in writing
Plainedge UFSD v Raymond, Decisions of the Commissioner of Education 14644

The Commissioner's ruling in the Plainedge case points out the critical importance of the written resignation.

Early in 2001 Plainedge Union Free School District board member Donald Risucci announced that he was resigning from his position effective June 30, 2001. The district decided to include Risucci's “soon to be vacant” seat on the ballot of its annual school election in order to save the school district the approximately $7,000 that a special election would cost.

Ralph Raymond won the election for Risucci's seat and asked to be seated immediately. He was told that “the seat would not become vacant until June 30, 2001, the effective date of Risucci's resignation.

The school attorney had advised the superintendent that “Risucci's resignation did not meet legal standards and was a nullity.” Apparently Risucci had not submitted his resignation in writing as required by Section 31(2) of the Public Officer Law. An oral resignation does not satisfy the requirements of Section 31(2). Raymond, therefore, could not take office because no vacancy existed. In other words, Risucci was still a member of the board because he did not submit a lawful resignation. Raymond appealed his being denied a seat on the board to the Commissioner of Education.*

The Commissioner agreed that Risucci's March 8, 2001 announcement of his intention to resign at a board meeting did not constitute a valid resignation from the board. As the Attorney General indicated in a formal opinion [1971 Opinions of the Attorney General 12], a member of a school board, whether elected or appointed, is a public officer. Thus his or her resignation is subject to the mandates of Section 31 of the Public Officers Law. The Commissioner's decision notes that Section 31(2) requires that:

Every resignation shall be in writing addressed to the officer or body to whom it is made. If no effective date is specified in such resignation, it shall take effect upon delivery to or filing with the proper officer or body. If an effective date is specified in such resignation, it shall take effect upon the date specified, provided however, that in no event shall the effective date of such resignation be more than thirty days subsequent to the date of its delivery or filing.

It should be noted that Section 31(2) specifically addresses the “more than thirty day” situation -- i.e., what is the effective date of the written resignation if it specifies it is to take effect more than thirty days after its delivery?

Section 31(2) provides, in pertinent part, that if the written resignation specifies an effective date that is more than thirty days subsequent to the date of its delivery or filing the resignation shall take effect thirty days from the date of its delivery or filing.

In other word, had Risucci simultaneously submitted his written resignation at the time he orally announced his intention to resign indicating that the effective date of the written resignation was to be June 30, 2001, his resignation would have taken effect thirty days after his written resignation was delivered notwithstanding the fact that its terms demonstrated that Risucci intended that it not take effect until June 30, 2001. 

* The requirement that resignations be in writing also applies to employees in the classified service of the State and public authorities, public benefit corporations and other agencies for which the Civil Service Law is administered by the State Department of Civil Service. 4 NYCRR 5.3, which applies to individuals subject to the Rules of the New York State Civil Service Commission, provides as follows: Resignation. (a) Resignation in writing. Except as otherwise provided herein, every resignation shall be in writing.

4 NYCRR 5.3 also provides that “If no effective date is specified in a resignation, it shall take effect upon delivery to or filing in the office of the appointing authority.” If an effective date is specified in a resignation, the Rule provides that it shall take effect on such specified date. However, if a resignation is submitted while the employee is on leave of absence without pay, such resignation, for the purpose of determining eligibility for reinstatement, shall be deemed to be effective as of the date of the commencement of such absence.”

Further, in the event an employee submits his or her resignation when charges of incompetency or misconduct have been or are about to be filed against the employee, the appointing authority may elect to disregard a resignation filed by such employee and to prosecute such charges and, in the event that such employee is found guilty of such charges and dismissed from the service, his or her termination shall be recorded as a dismissal rather than as a resignation.

Many local civil service commissions have adopted similar rules.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Reimbursing NYSHIP Medicare-eligible retirees for Medicare Part B premiums

Reimbursing NYSHIP Medicare-eligible retirees for Medicare Part B premiums
Munger v Board of Educ. of the Garrison Union Free School Dist., 2011 NY Slip Op 05034, Appellate Division, Second Department

Carol Munger and other retirees of the Garrison Union Free School District sued in an effort to recover damages for breach of contract and for a judgment declaring that they are entitled to reimbursement for money they expended for Medicare Part B premiums since reaching the age of 65. Supreme Court dismissed Munger’s Article 78 petition.
Munger appealed and the Appellate Division reinstated that branch of her petition seeking reimbursement for Medicare Part B premium payments

Ruling that the issue of the school district's obligation to reimburse Munger and her co-plaintiffs for their Medicare part B premiums was not decided in the prior arbitration proceeding, the Appellate Division held that the arbitrator's award did not have preclusive effect on Munger's Article 78 action.

The court then explained that in considering a motion to dismiss a pleading for failure to state a cause of action, “the court must accept the allegations of the complaint as true, accord the plaintiff the benefit of every possible favorable inference, and determine only whether the facts as alleged fit within any cognizable legal theory.”

Noting that Munger had submitted documents relating to the school district’s obligation, “as members of the statewide health care consortium,” to reimburse their retired employees for Medicare Part B premiums paid by the retirees pursuant to Civil Service Law §167-a, the Appellate Division observed that Civil Service Law §167-a requires that employers participating in the New York State Health Program for State and Local Governments to reimburse retirees who are 65 years of age or older for Medicare premium charges.

According, said the court, Munger and her co-plaintiffs every possible favorable inference from their allegations and supporting documents, the Garrison Union Free School District’s motion to dismiss Munger's first cause of action alleging breach of the collective bargaining agreements and seeking declaratory relief should have been denied.


Randall Comments: The Munger case appears to be another example of a public employer participating in the New York State Health Insurance Program attempting to circumvent the mandates of Civil Service Law §167-a* A brief review of the genesis of §167-a may be illuminating.

Many years ago Thomas McCracken, the then director of the Department of Civil Service
s health insurance unit, concluded that the State could realize substantial financial benefits in terms of a reduction in the employers contributions to the New York State Health Insurance Program for State and Local Government [NYSHIP] if individuals and the dependents of such individuals that were Medicare eligible retirees had Medicare as their primary insurer.**

Mr. McCracken was instrumental in the drafting and adoption of Civil Service Law
§167-a to this end. He also successfully advocated modifying NYSHIP's health insurance contracts to exclude from NYSHIP coverage those benefits otherwise available to Medicare eligible retirees and their dependents under Medicare. The reason for this: Medicare premiums were less than the premium costs that would have been otherwise required were the State to continue to provide these benefits to retirees and their dependents were NYSHIP the primary insurer.

In developing the plan, Mr. McCracken realized that, in effect,
excluding such coverage for retirees in the NYSHIP contracts for health insurance mandated that the Medicare eligible retirees designate Medicare as their primary insurer or lose a significant portion of their health insurance coverage as the NYSHIP contracts would only provide Medicare-eligible retirees and their dependents with health insurance benefits otherwise available to active employee that were not covered by Medicare.

To maintain their same level of health insurance benefits, the Medicare eligible retiree would be required to pay the Medicare premium otherwise required for Medicare as well as the full “employee contribution” required for NYSHIP. Hence the amendment of the Civil Service Law to provide for the reimbursement of Medicare premiums to the Medicare eligible retirees set out in
§167-a.

As an illustration, if the employee contribution for individual coverage in NYSHIP was $xxx per year, the Medicare eligible retiree would be required to pay $xxx for his or her NYSHIP participation and, in addition, pay $yyy per year for Medicare premiums for a total of $zzz.Thus the Medicare eligible retiree would be eligible for the same level of health insurance benefits otherwise available to the non-Medicare eligible individual under NYSHIP but would be required to pay more in premiums for the identical coverage.

To eliminate this adverse financial impact on Medicare eligible retirees, §167-a was enacted in order to provide for the reimbursement of Medicare premiums to Medicare eligible retirees by the retiree’s employer, thus, once again, limiting their cost for health insurance to the $xxx per year that was required of active employees and non-Medicare eligibles in NYSHIP while NYSHIP continued to reap substantial financial savings to the benefit of the State and NYSHIPs participating employers.

Simply stated, but for the Medicare eligible retirees participating in Medicare as their primary health insurance carrier, the health insurance costs to the State, participating employers and NYSHIP enrollees, active and retired, for health insurance benefits through NYSHIP would be higher.


* Civil Service Law §167-a, in pertinent part, provides: Reimbursement for medicare premium charges. Upon exclusion from the coverage of the health benefit plan of supplementary medical insurance benefits for which an active or retired employee or a dependent covered by the health benefit plan is or would be eligible under the federal old-age, survivors and disability insurance program, an amount equal to the premium charge for such supplementary medical insurance benefits for such active or retired employee and his or her dependents, if any, shall be paid monthly or at other intervals to such active or retired employee from the health insurance fund.

In addition, 4 NYCRR 73.3(6) provides as follows: (6) The employer shall pay an additional sum each month equal to the current monthly Federal Medicare charge as the employer's share of the cost of coverage for each employee and dependent covered under the health insurance plan who is 65 years of age or older, while 4 NYCRR 73.1(b), Definitions, defines the term "employer" as follows: (b) The term employer or an employer shall include the State of New York (in all its departments and agencies and those departments and agencies of the State maintained and financed from special or administrative funds) and any participating employer. The term participating employer shall mean any public authority, public benefit corporation, school district, district corporation, municipal corporation or other public agency, subdivision or quasi-public organization which elects, with the approval of the President of the Civil Service Commission, to include its employees and/or retired employees in the plan.

** Eligible individuals are not required by federal law to participate in Medicare upon attaining age 65 but if the individual elects not to do so, he or she may be required to pay higher Medicare premiums should he or she later decide to enroll in Medicare.


The Munger decision is posted on the Internet at:

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Zero tolerance drug policy

Zero tolerance drug policy
Dept. of Corrections v Robbins, OATH 2030/99

Many employers have initiated “zero tolerance” policies requiring the automatic dismissal of individuals found to have violated the policy. These “zero tolerance” policies address a number of situations that the employer views as disruptive or dangerous, the most common involving the use of drugs by employees, on or off the job.

The New York City Department of Corrections had established a “zero tolerance” drug policy providing for the termination of any employee, uniformed (i.e., correction officers), or civilian, who violated the policy. Its justification: the policy serves important functions by acting as a deterrent against drug traffic in its facilities and ensured that “the security of penal institutions is not breached.”

Was dismissal the appropriate penalty in a case involving a civilian employee -- a dietary aide -- found to have smoked one marijuana cigarette, off-duty, almost two years before being charged with violating the policy? The administrative law judge did not believe it was, concluding that there are instances, particularly where a civilian employee is involved, when the “automatic penalty” under the department’s zero tolerance drug policy should not be applied.

The employee, Anthony Robbins, admitted he was guilty of the charge of using marijuana while off-duty. Although the department wanted him terminated for violating its “zero tolerance” drug policy, the hearing officer recommended that a lesser penalty be imposed. The mitigating circumstances set out by the hearing officer justifying the deviation from the policy included the following:

1. Since the time of the incident, Robbins had been in counseling, had undergone drug testing, and laboratory reports indicated that he tested negative for drugs.

2. The employee has continued in counseling and still undergoes, as part of counseling, drug screening.

3. The risk of Robbins’ being involved in drug smuggling at the facility is so negligible as to be speculative and therefore cannot justify termination.

4. In previous cases involving violations of the “zero tolerance” policy by civilian workers, the individuals were not terminated and lesser penalties were imposed by the department.

5. The department did not subject civilian workers to random drug testing procedures although it required uniformed employees to submit to random drug tests.

6. In one instance the department “converted a penalty of termination into a lengthy suspension with random drug testing against a correction officer found to have tested positive for marijuana.”

The hearing officer concluded these “mitigating circumstances” justified a departure from the “zero tolerance” policy’s “automatic termination” provision.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Extending the probationary period of an individual

Extending the probationary period of an individual
Appeal of Anne M. Christiano, Decisions of the Commissioner of Education, Commissioner’s decision No. 16,217

A “Juul Agreement” between an educator and his or her appointing authority extends the educator’s probationary period rather than terminate the educator at the end of his or her probationary period for not completing his or her probationary period satisfactorily. This is typically done in an effort to provide the educator with an opportunity to improve his or her performance and thereby become eligible for tenure in the position. Such an agreement, when “open, knowing and voluntary,” waives the educator’s right to claim tenure by estoppel.* At the end of the extended probationary period the school district may grant or deny tenure [see Juul v. Board of Educ. of Hempstead UFSD, 76 AD2d 837, affirmed, 55 N.Y.2d 648].**

Anne M. Christiano, then serving as a probationary principal, and the Johnstown City School District had entered into a Juul Agreement. At the end of the extended period of Christiano’s probation the superintendent recommended Christiano for tenure.  The school board, however, voted to reject the superintendent’s recommendation and denied Christiano tenure with the district.

Christiano, alleging that the board acted in bad faith and was arbitrary and capricious in denying her tenure, appealed to the Commissioner, asking that he overturn the school board’s tenure determination and that he remove those members of the board “who voted against granting her tenure.”

After addressing a number of procedural issues, the Commissioner said that with respect to the merits of Christiano’s claim regarding the denial of tenure, Education Law §3012(1)(b) provides that the service of a principal “may be discontinued at any time during the probationary period on the recommendation of the superintendent of schools, by a majority vote of the board of education.”  Further, said the Commissioner, “… a board of education has the unfettered right to terminate a probationary principal’s employment for any reason, unless the employee establishes that he or she was terminated for a constitutionally impermissible reason or in violation of a statutory proscription.”

In any event, in an appeal to the Commissioner the petitioner has the burden of demonstrating a clear legal right to the relief requested and the burden of establishing the facts upon which petitioner seeks relief. In this instance the Commissioner ruled that while there were positive comments in the record about her administrative abilities, Christiano had not alleged or established that she was terminated for a constitutionally impermissible reason or in violation of a statutory proscription.

Accordingly, the Commissioner found that Christiano has failed to meet her burden of proof.

As to Christiano’s petition to remove certain members of the school board, the Commissioner said that she had failed to establish facts sufficient to warrant removal of the individually named board members pursuant to Education Law §306.  The Commissioner pointed out that “A member of the board of education or a school officer may be removed from office pursuant to Education Law §306 when it is proven to the satisfaction of the Commissioner that the board member or school officer has engaged in a willful violation or neglect of duty under the Education Law or has willfully disobeyed a decision, order, rule or regulation of the Board of Regents or Commissioner of Education.”

Finding that Christiano had failed to establish that the individual members of the school board named in her appeal “intentionally acted with a wrongful purpose to disregard a lawful duty or violate a legal requirement,” the Commissioner ruled that she had failed to establish any ground for their removal under Education Law §306.

* A probationary employee may attain tenure by estoppel [sometimes referred to as “tenure by acquiescence”] when the appointing authority accepts the continued services of the individual, but fails to take the action required by law to either grant or deny the individual tenure prior to the expiration of the employee’s probationary term, [see McManus v Hempstead Union Free School District, 87 NY2d 183]. Continuation on the payroll for a brief period after the expiration of a probationary period for administrative convenience, such as to coincide with the end of a payroll period, does not automatically result in the individual attaining tenure by estoppel [Mendez v Valenti, 101 AD2d 612].

** A procedure is available to the appointing authority with respect to probationers in the classified service of the State and public authorities, public benefit corporations and other agencies for which the Civil Service Law is administered by the State Department of Civil Service, provides:. 4 NYCRR 4.5(b) (5)(ii), in pertinent part, permits an appointing authority to offer a probationer deemed not to have satisfactorily completed his or her probationary period an opportunity to serve a second probationary term “in which case the appointment may be made permanent at any time after completion of 12 weeks of service, or the employment [may be] terminated at any time after the completion of 8 weeks of service and on or before the completion of 26 weeks of service.” A similar rule has been adopted by many local civil service commissions.

The Commissioner’s decision is posted on the Internet at:
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Friday, March 25, 2011

Terminating of a tenured public officer without an administrative hearing

Terminating of a tenured public officer without an administrative hearing
Pirozzi v Safir, App. Div., First Department, 270 AD2d 2, motion for leave to appeal denied, 95 NY2d 756

New York City police officer John Pirozzi was terminated from his position without a hearing after he was convicted of a crime he committed in the line of duty and that the appointing authority deemed constituted a violation of Pirozzi’s oath of office.

Claiming that he was entitled to administrative due process before he could be removed from his position, Pirozzi sued. The department, citing Section 30(1)(e) of the Public Officers Law, argued that Pirozzi was removed by operation of law upon his conviction and thus he was not entitled to a pre-termination hearing.*

The Appellate Division agreed and dismissed Pirozzi’s petition. The court said that Pirozzi was properly terminated from the Police Department without a hearing in light of his conviction of aggravated harassment in the second degree. The court cited Duffy v Ward, 81 NY2d 127, as authority for its ruling.

However, in the event a public officer is terminated pursuant to Section 30(1)(e) as a result of his or her conviction of a felony, or a crime involving the violation of his or her oath of office, and the conviction is later reversed or vacated, the individual may request reinstatement to his or her former position, except in cases where the former position was “an elective office.” In the event the appointing authority denies the individual’s request for reinstatement his or her former position, he or she is entitled to a hearing with respect to that decision if the initial conviction was the only basis for the termination.

* Section 30(1)(e) of the Public Officers Law applies only in cases where the individual is a public officer. A police officer is a public officer. Although every public officer is a public employee, not every public employee is a public officer.

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Monday, February 28, 2011

Videotape made by witnesses that observed the alleged misconduct of the employee admissible as evidence in his or her disciplinary hearing

Videotape made by witnesses that observed the alleged misconduct of the employee admissible as evidence in his or her disciplinary hearing
Matter of Heisler v Scappaticci, 2011 NY Slip Op 01472, Appellate Division, Second Department

Steven Heisler filed CPLR Article 78 petition challenging the decision of the Town Board of the Town of Harrison, acting in its capacity as the Town’s Board of Police Commissioners, terminating his employment with the Town of Harrison Police.

Abandoning his claim that there was no substantial evidence to support the Board’ determination, Heisler focused on alleged procedural errors in the disciplinary hearing that was held prior to his dismissal.

Heisler contended that the use of “hearing videotaped statements” made by individuals who witnessed the subject incident even though they did not testify at the hearing was improper.

The Appellate Division disagreed, holding that the Board properly admitted the videotapes into evidence as "[h]earsay is admissible in an administrative hearing and, if sufficiently relevant and probative, hearsay alone may constitute substantial evidence"

Citing A.J. & Taylor Rest. v New York State Liq. Auth., 214 AD2d 727, the court said that “… under appropriate circumstances, statements from witnesses absent from the hearing may form the sole basis for an agency's ultimate determination."

Also rejected was Heisler’s argument that the charges set out in the notice of discipline sent to him did not provide him with sufficient notice of the conduct with which he was charged. The Appellate Division said that “the disciplinary charges were ‘reasonably specific, in light of all the relevant circumstances, so as to apprise the party who is the subject of the hearing and to allow such party to prepare an adequate defense,’" citing Matter of Mangini v Christopher, 290 AD2d 740.

The court also sustained the penalty imposed, dismissal, holding that it was not so disproportionate to the offense as to be shocking to one's sense of fairness, the so-called test, Pell v Board of Education, 34 NY2d 222.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2011/2011_01472.htm
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Friday, February 25, 2011

Tenure by estoppel

Tenure by estoppel
Matter of Ronga v Klein, 2011 NY Slip Op 01408, Appellate Division, First Department

A probationary administrator or teacher may attain tenure by estoppel [sometimes referred to as “tenure by acquiescence”] when a school board accepts the continued services of a teacher or administrator, but fails to take the action required by law to either grant or deny the individual tenure prior to the expiration of the administrator’s or teacher’s probationary term, McManus v Hempstead Union Free School District, 87 NY2d 183.

Richard Ronga, appointed as a probationary principal by the New York City Department of Education [DOE], challenged DOE's terminating his employment on the theory that he was denied due process as he was not give the required pre-termination notice and hearing.

Ronga contended that he had attained tenure as a principal by “estoppel” and thus he was entitled to such due process as a matter of law.

Supreme Court dismissed Ronga’s petition, which ruling was unanimously affirmed by the Appellate Division.

In contrast to Ronga’s claim that he acquired tenure by estoppel, the Appellate Division said that the record established that he did not perform the duties of a principal with DOE's knowledge or consent beyond the expiration of his probationary term.

Further, the court noted, prior to the expiration of Ronga’s probationary period DOE notified him that he would not be granted tenure. According to the decision, Ronga and DOE then negotiated and signed a resignation agreement, which Ronga attempted to revoke later that same day.

The Appellate Division concluded that Ronga failed to demonstrate that he acquired tenure by estoppel and, further, failed to sustain his burden of showing that DOE acted in bad faith when it terminated his employment as a probationary principal, “as he provides no support for his claims.”

N.B. Continuation on the payroll for a brief period after the expiration of a probationary period does not automatically result in the individual attaining tenure by estoppel [Mendez v Valenti, 101 AD2d 612]. The court ruled that as long as the termination of a probationer [in the classified service] is effected within a reasonable time, such as set to coincide with the end of the next payroll period, the courts will not deem the probationer to have obtained tenure by estoppel because of his or her continuation on the payroll following the last day of his or her probationary period.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2011/2011_01408.htm
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Monday, January 24, 2011

Applying for reinstatement following a §73 termination from a §72 disability leave

Applying for reinstatement following a §73 termination from a §72 disability leave
Matter of Coleman v State of New York, Appellate Division, Third Department, 38 AD3d 1044

Coleman was involved in an off-duty automobile accident and was placed on disability leave pursuant to §72 of the Civil Service Law. After she had been continuously absent for more than one year, the Department terminated her in accordance with the provisions of §73 of the Civil Service Law.*

§73 provides that an individual terminated after being absent on leave pursuant to §72 may apply for reinstatement to his or her former position within one year after the termination the disability underlying being placed on §72 leave by applying to the civil service department or municipal commission having jurisdiction over the position “for a medical examination to be conducted by a medical officer selected for that purpose by such department or commission.”

When Coleman initially applied for reinstatement she was evaluated to determine is she was fit to perform the essential duties of a correction officer.

Ultimately, the New York State Department of Correctional Services disqualified Delores Coleman for employment as a correction officer based on the Department’s medical expert opinion that Coleman was not psychologically qualified for the position. Coleman appealed.

Although Coleman was initially approved for reinstatement, information subsequently provided by the Department resulted in a second evaluation that concluded that she was "poorly suited" for the position. According to the decision, Coleman’s responses to specific questions during a subsequent psychological interview raised significant concerns about her judgment and integrity and as a result, she was denied reinstatement to her former position of correction officer..

Coleman contended that: Corrections incorrectly utilized the standards required of a new correction officer outlined in Correction Law §8 in rejecting her request to be reinstated to her former position with the Department.

The Appellate Division rejected Coleman’s argument, noting that although prior to 2004, a correction officer seeking reinstatement was examined solely to determine whether the disability still existed, by January 2004, [the Department] changed the medical evaluation processing of correction officer reinstatements to mirror the processing of correction officer trainee candidates.**

Accordingly, said the court, Corrections had the statutory authority under Civil Service Law §73 to determine if Coleman was mentally fit to return to her position as a correction officer and its use of the psychological standards detailed in Correction Law §8 for that purpose was entirely proper, It then dismissed her appeal.

* Section 73 of the Civil Service Law provides for the removal of a tenured employee in the classified service if he or she has been continuously absent from work for one year or more because of a non-work related injury or illness. Termination pursuant to Section 73 is at the discretion of the appointing authority. [Termination following a cumulative period absence of one year or more due to a work-connected injury or illness is controlled by §71 of the Civil Service Law. Again, termination of an individual placed on a §71 leave of absence is at the discretion of the appointing authority.]

** Correction Law Section 8 (2) provides that all applicants for the position of correction officer must undergo a psychological evaluation to determine if they are "suffering from psychotic disorders, serious character disorders, or other disorders which could hinder performance on the job [and] may be deemed ineligible for appointment."

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