January 18, 2011

Criminal conviction and disqualification for public employment

Criminal conviction and disqualification for public employmentRodgers v NYC Human Resources Administration, 546 NYS2d 581

The Rogers case involved the termination of a public employee because he allegedly made false statements on his application for public employment. The decision indicates the potential interrelationship of portions of the Civil Service Law, the Human Rights Law and the Corrections Law.

Rodgers had been appointed as a caseworker in 1985. Two years later he was discharged of the grounds that he did not "admit his conviction record on his employment application."* According to the ruling, Rodgers allegedly made a false statement on his application for employment when he stated that his did not have any criminal record. This alleged false statement was claimed to be the "sole basis of [Rodgers'] termination." Rodgers sued, claiming that his termination was arbitrary, and that his discharge was in violation of Section 296 of the Human Rights Law.

Rodgers had been convicted of two misdemeanors. However, he said that he had provided his employer with actual notice of the existence of his history of conviction of these misdemeanors when he submitted a copy of his Certificate of Relief from Civil

Disabilities together with "the dispositions of his criminal cases along with his application." Although the courts of this State have generally upheld the termination of an employee upon a finding that he or she falsified a material fact in his or her application form, here the Appellate Division, 2nd Department, decided that some fact-finding was required. It remanded the matter to the Supreme Court for a hearing. The opinion indicates that the Court believed that Rodgers "should be enabled to continue to be a valuable member of society, rather than be relegated to a life of crime due to this baseless allegation that he was anything less than forthcoming about his past."

The Appellate Division appeared troubled by the summary dismissal of Rodgers' case by the lower court in this instance. The opinion includes a number of footnotes, including one indicating that "it is beyond dispute that [the City] had actual notice of the subject convictions and permitted [Rodgers] to retain his position after questioning;" and a second stating that the file of investigator originally involved in the case, whom Rodgers claimed told him that "there would be no further problems with his application" despite the inconsistency regarding his criminal record, "had been misplaced."

As to the protections contained in the State's Human Rights Law in cases involving an individual's "criminal history," except with respect to applicants for employment as a police officer or peace officer, Section 296.16 of the Executive Law makes it an unlawful discriminatory practice to inquire about an applicant's "criminal history" except with respect to matters then pending or where the individual was convicted.

Additional protections against discrimination based on a criminal conviction are contained in Section 752 of the Corrections Law. Section 752 prohibits "unfair discrimination" against persons previously convicted of one or more criminal offenses. The individual may not be refused employment unless "there is a direct relationship between one or more of the previous criminal offenses and the ... employment sought; or ... granting employment would involve an unreasonable risk to property or to the safety or welfare of specific individuals or the general public."

Another aspect of this case relates to the issuance of a Certificate of Relief from Civil Disabilities [see Section 702, Correction Law]. Rodgers had obtained such a Certificate from a State court judge The granting of such a Certificate by a court removes any bar to employment automatically imposed by law because of conviction of a crime. One exception, however is that such a Certificate does not excuse the impact of the conviction with respect to such an individual's right to retain, or be eligible for, public office. This exception with respect to public office may be important in certain employment situations. Although all public officers are public employees, not all public employees are public officers.**

Other methods available to a person convicted of a crime by which he or she may seek to obtain relief from certain disabilities imposed by law as a result of such conviction is the granting of a Certificate of Good Conduct by the State Board of Parole [Section 703-a, Correction Law] or the granting of an Executive Pardon by the Governor [Article 4, Section 4, State Constitution].

In the Rodgers case, the Appellate Division said that the action taken against Rodgers by the City "seems contrary to the intent of both the legislature which enacted the statutory relief for the furtherance of public interest [Correction Law Section 702(2)(c)] and the courts which saw fit to grant [Rodgers] a second chance at life." This suggests that in a Section 50.4 disqualification proceeding the courts expect the State Department of Civil Service and local commissions and personnel officers to give due weight to the fact that an applicant or an employee may offer a Certificate of Relief from Civil

Disabilities or a Certificate of Good Conduct or an Executive Pardon in opposing his or her proposed disqualification for certification or employment.

* Although the statutory authority for the termination is not specified in the decision, it is assumed that Rodgers was disqualified pursuant to Section 50.4 of the Civil Service Law. Section 50.4 permits the State Department of Civil Service or a municipal commission or personnel officer to "investigate the qualifications and background of an eligible after he [or she] has been appointed ... and upon finding facts which if known prior to appointment, would have warranted his [or her] disqualification ... direct that his [or her] employment be terminated." Except in cases of fraud, there is a three-year statute of limitation on disqualifications pursuant to Section 50.4.

** The Board of Parole is also authorized to issue such Certificates. See Section 703, Correction Law, for the scope and effect of the issuance of such a Certificate by the Board of Parole.


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