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April 6, 2011

Concerning disciplinary probation

Concerning disciplinary probation
Gonzalez v Safir, App. Div., 270 AD2d 52
Dillon v Safir, App. Div., 270 AD2d 116

The Gonzalez case deals with the imposition of probation as a disciplinary penalty; the Dillon decision indicates the potential impact that a disciplinary probation may have on an individual.

The bottom line: an individual serving in disciplinary probationary status may be dismissed without notice or hearing if his or her service during the probationary period is found to be unsatisfactory.

The Gonzalez case

Eduardo A. Gonzalez, a New York City police officer, was found guilty of having wrongfully struck another person. The penalty imposed by the disciplinary hearing officer: disciplinary probation for one year and a 30-day suspension without pay.

The Appellate Division, First Department, confirmed the findings of the hearing officer and the penalty given to Gonzalez as a result of his having been found guilty of the charges filed against him. The court said that it found the penalty imposed was appropriate in light of Gonzalez’s’s violent behavior and poor judgment when he struck his girlfriend.

The Appellate Division also commented on Gonzalez’s evident lack of candor when he testified about the incident.

The Dillion Case

Bradly Dillion, another New York City police officer, was terminated from his employment as a probationary employee without notice or hearing. Dillion had been serving a one-year disciplinary probation imposed pursuant to an earlier disciplinary action at the time he was dismissed.

Dillon had been found guilty of charges alleging excessive use of force.

Dillion challenged his termination, contending that under Section 891 of the Unconsolidated Law, police officers can be terminated only for incompetence or misconduct shown after a hearing.

The Appellate Division rejected Dillion’s arguments for two reasons. The court said that:

1. In Williams v Safir, 696 NY2d 139, Dillion’s theory that Section 891 applies to probationary as well as tenured police officers was specifically rejected; and

2. Unless it is shown that the termination of an individual on disciplinary probation was made in bad faith, police officers on disciplinary probation, like those on ordinary probation, can be terminated for any or no reason.

The court said that evidence in the record of disciplinary problems other than that underlying the probation that would support the conclusion that [Dillion’s] termination was made in good faith.

However, there may be limitations to dismissing an individual serving a disciplinary probation without first providing the employee with a pre-termination notice and a hearing.

If the individual is placed on disciplinary probation subject to specific terms and conditions set out in the disciplinary settlement or award, he or she may not be summarily terminated as a probationer unless he or she violates the specific terms of the disciplinary probation.

This point is illustrated in ruling by the Appellate Division in Taylor v Cass, 505 NY2d 929.

Under the terms of a disciplinary settlement, Taylor could be terminated without any hearing if, in the opinion of his superior, his job performance was adversely affected by his consumption of alcohol. Taylor was subsequently terminated from his position for sleeping on the job.

Although the employer claimed that the termination without a hearing was permitted under the terms of the disciplinary settlement agreement, the Appellate Division disagreed and directed the agency to reinstate Taylor to his position with back pay and benefits.

The court pointed out that the reason given for summarily terminating Taylor -- sleeping on the job -- was not authorized by the settlement agreement. The court ruled that Taylor could only be terminated without a hearing if he was found to have violated the specific reason set out in the settlement agreement: the performance of his duties were unsatisfactory because of his consumption of alcohol.

The Dillion and Taylor decisions illustrate two basic formulas followed in imposing disciplinary probation as a penalty:

1. The Dillion formula: You should be terminated but you’re getting another chance: any kind of misperformance, malperformance or nonperformance and you will be dismissed!

2. The Taylor formula: You should be terminated based on specific misconduct, but you’re getting another chance: if you do it again, you will be dismissed!

In effect, an individual serving a Dillion formula disciplinary probationary period is treated as though he or she is serving a Civil Service Law Section 63 probationary period.

In contrast, an individual serving a Taylor formula disciplinary probation period continues to hold status as a tenured employee but he or she may be summarily terminated if he or she commits a specified type offense.
There are other potential impacts resulting from disciplinary probationary status to be considered as well. For example, assume there is a layoff. Sections 80 and 80-a of the Civil Service Law provide that probationary employees are to be laid off before less senior tenured employees.

An individual serving a Dillion type disciplinary probation presumably would be treated in the same manner as any other probationer with respect to suspension or demotion in a layoff situation. In contrast, the Taylor type disciplinary probationer presumably would retain all of his or her tenured seniority rights without regard to his or her disciplinary probation status.

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The Discipline Book, - a concise guide to disciplinary actions involving public employees in New York State is a 1272 page e-book available from the Public Employment Law Press. Click on http://thedisciplinebook.blogspot.com/ for additional information concerning this electronic reference manual.

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Public Personnel Law E-books

The Discipline Book - A concise guide to disciplinary actions involving public employees in New York State set out in a 700 page e-book. For more information click on https://booklocker.com/books/5215.html

A Reasonable Disciplinary Penalty Under the Circumstances - A 442-page e-book focusing on determining an appropriate disciplinary penalty to be imposed on an employee in the public service in instances where the employee has been found guilty of misconduct or incompetence. Now available in two formats - as a large, paperback print edition and as an e-book. Click on http://booklocker.com/books/7401.html for more information.

The Layoff, Preferred List and Reinstatement Manual - A 645 page e-book reviewing the relevant laws, rules and regulations, and selected court and administrative decisions. For more information click on http://booklocker.com/books/5216.html

Disability Leave for fire, police and other public sector personnel - A 1098 page e-book focusing on disability benefits available to public officers and employees employed by New York State and its political subdivisions. For more information click on http://booklocker.com/books/3916.html