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March 03, 2011

Analyzing out-of-title work grievances determinations

Analyzing out-of-title work grievances determinations
Steen v Governor’s Office of Employee Relations, 271 AD2d 738

Resolving out-of-title work disputes is not something courts typically do.

As the Appellate Division, citing Cove v Sise, 71 NY2d 910, noted in deciding the Steen case: “it is well settled that [a]dministrative determinations concerning position classifications are ... subject to only limited judicial review, and will not be disturbed in the absence of a showing that they are wholly arbitrary or without any rational basis."

But, said the court, where, as here, the record lacks any rational basis upon which to conclude that petitioners are not doing out-of-title work courts will intervene.

In Steen v GOER, the Appellate Division overturned a determination by the Governor’s Office of Employee Relations because it found that in this instance the comparison of petitioners’ duties with the duties of a Treatment Team Leader is inapposite -- i.e., it was neither appropriate nor pertinent to do so.

Why? Because, said the court, [a]n employee need not be assigned the full range of duties of a higher salary grade to be performing out-of-title work. The Appellate Division pointed to Collins v GOER, and Kuppinger v GOER, 203 AD2d 664, as support for its ruling.

Nancy Steen had filed a grievance claiming that she and a number of co-workers were being required to perform out-of-title duties and asked that their positions be reclassified and reallocated to higher-grade positions in recognition of their assignments. After the grievance was denied at all steps of the grievance procedure, she sued.

Steen contended that she and her co-grievants were appointed to positions of Recreation Workers, SG-14, Recreation Therapists, SG-14 or Senior Recreation Therapists, (Filed Mar. 29, 2000.) SG-17 by Pilgrim State Hospital. Following Pilgrim’s instituting a new program known as the Buffalo Model, Steen contended that she and the other employees were given an in-house designation of Treatment Plan Coordinators and were assigned a specific number of patients. Steen’s basic claim: the creation of the in-house title Treatment Plan Coordinators was a subterfuge allowing Pilgrim to assign out-of-title work to them and that their new duties were consistent with the duties of a Treatment Team Leader, SG 25.

According to the Appellate Division, as Treatment Plan Coordinators, each petitioner was responsible for transcribing information from the patient’s chart to a treatment plan worksheet and also interviewing each patient and entering the information from the interview in the second section of the worksheet.

Thereafter, the treatment team met and developed the treatment plan. Steen and her co-workers were then required to conduct a review with respect to each patient after 90 days to evaluate the progress of each patient with respect to the goals and objectives in the plan devised from the worksheets.

The court’s conclusion: [t]he focus of the review should have been whether the duties are appropriate to petitioners’ titles.

Noting that the reviewing officer recognized that the duties at issue are not contained verbatim in the classification standard but concluded they were a logical extension of the responsibility of professional or para-professional members of the treatment team, the court annulled GOER’s ruling denying Steen’s grievance.

Finding that there was no support for the reviewing officer’s conclusion in the record, the Appellate Division decided that the determination did not have a rational basis.

Further, the court specifically commented that a review of a patient’s entire chart containing information from each discipline represented by the team and the interview of the patient is simply not a logical extension of petitioners’ responsibilities to fill out forms and reports concerning patients in their recreational programs.
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New York Public Personnel Law Blog Editor Harvey Randall served as Principal Attorney, New York State Department of Civil Service; Director of Personnel, SUNY Central Administration; Director of Research, Governor’s Office of Employee Relations; and Staff Judge Advocate General, New York Guard. Consistent with the Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations, the material posted to this blog is presented with the understanding that neither the publisher nor NYPPL and, or, its staff and contributors are providing legal advice to the reader and in the event legal or other expert assistance is needed, the reader is urged to seek such advice from a knowledgeable professional.
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