Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Disqualification of candidates for employment as police officers

Disqualification of candidates for employment as police officers
Needleman v Rockland County, 270 A.D.2d 423

The Rockland County Commissioner of Personnel disqualified Seth Needleman, David Oliver and Donna Russo for appointment as patrol officers in the Rockland County Sheriff’s Department. The three applicants sued in an effort to overturn the commissioner’s determination.*

Russo complained that the personnel commissioner had improperly disqualified her from appointment as a patrol officer.

The Appellate Division disagreed, commenting that the commissioner did not act irrationally or arbitrarily in relying upon “the evaluations of two independent psychologists, who used objective tests, to determine that [Russo] was not qualified for the position of patrol officer.”

The standards applied by the court in resolving Russo’s appeal:

1. An appointing authority has wide discretion in determining the fitness of candidates.

2. Such discretion is particularly broad in the hiring of persons for positions in law enforcement, to whom high standards may be applied.

3. The courts will not interfere with the discretion of the appointing authority to determine the qualifications of candidates unless the determination warrants judicial intervention because it is irrational and arbitrary.

Finding that Russo’s disqualification was not an abuse of discretion, the Appellate Division sustained the Supreme Court’s dismissal of her petition.

Section 50.4 of the Civil Service Law provides for the disqualification of applicants or appointees by the state civil service department or the municipal commission having jurisdiction. Among the reasons set out in Section 50.4 for disqualifying an applicant: the applicant lacks any of the established requirements for admission to the examination or for appointment to the position.**

However, in such cases the applicant must be provided with a pre-disqualification opportunity to object to his or proposed disqualification. In the words of Section 50.4:

No person shall be disqualified pursuant to this subdivision unless he [or she] has been given a written statement of the reasons therefore and afforded an opportunity to make an explanation and to submit facts in opposition to such disqualification.

Although a full and formal pre-disqualification hearing is not required, the individual must be advised of his or her right to file a written objection to the disqualification and given a reasonable opportunity to submit the objection to the municipal commission or the state department.

Further, as a general rule, only the responsible municipal civil service commission, or in the case of employment by the State, the State Department of Civil Service may disqualify an applicant for employment in the public service.

Typically, the appointing authority does not have any independent authority to disqualify an individual in contrast to declining to appoint an individual certified for permanent appointment to a position in the competitive class consistent with the so-called Rule of Three [Section 61.1, Civil Service Law.***
 

However, the appointing authority may request a municipal commission or the State Department of Civil Service to initiate action that could lead to the disqualification of the applicant by the commission or by the State Department of Civil Service.

* The court dismissed both Needleman’s and Oliver’s appeals as abandoned and only considered Russo’s challenge her disqualification.

** Section 50.4 permits the disqualification of an applicant or an appointee (a) who is found to lack any of the established requirements for admission to the examination or for appointment to the position for which he applies; or (b) who is found to have a disability which renders him or her unfit to perform in a reasonable manner the duties of the position in which he or she seeks employment, or which may reasonably be expected to render him or her unfit to continue to perform in a reasonable manner the duties of such position; or (d) who has been guilty of a crime; or (e) who has been dismissed from a permanent position in the public service upon stated written charges of incompetency or misconduct, after an opportunity to answer such charges in writing, or who has resigned from, or whose service has otherwise been terminated in, a permanent or temporary position in the public service, where it is found after appropriate investigation or inquiry that such resignation or termination resulted from his incompetency or misconduct, provided, that in cases of dismissal, resignation or termination after written charges of incompetency, the examination or certification in question be for a position that requires the performance of a duty or duties which are the same as or similar to the duty or duties of the position from which the applicant has been dismissed, resigned or terminated on account of incompetency; or (f) who has intentionally made a false statement of any material fact in his application; or (g) who has practiced, or attempted to practice, any deception or fraud in his application, in his examination, or in securing his eligibility or appointment; or (h) who has been dismissed from private employments because of habitually poor performance.

*** Section 61.1, in pertinent part, provides: Appointment and promotion. 1. Appointment or promotion from eligible lists. Appointment or promotion from an eligible list to a position in the competitive class shall be made by the selection of one of the three persons certified by the appropriate civil service commission as standing highest on such eligible list who are willing to accept such appointment or promotion.
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Handbooks focusing on State and Municipal Public Personnel Law continue to be available for purchase via the links provided below:

The Discipline Book at http://thedisciplinebook.blogspot.com/

Challenging Adverse Personnel Decisions at http://nypplarchives.blogspot.com

The Disability Benefits E-book: at http://section207.blogspot.com/

Layoff, Preferred Lists at http://nylayoff.blogspot.com/

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