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Thursday, April 07, 2011

Employee claims coercion in his agreeing to a demotion in lieu of disciplinary action

Employee claims coercion in his agreeing to a demotion in lieu of disciplinary action
Pagano v Port Authority, 270 AD2d 206

The Employment Relations Panel of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey affirmed Authority Police Sergeant Frank Pagano agreement to accept a demotion to patrol officer.

Pagano sued, seeking reinstatement to his former position. Pagano claimed that his agreement to the demotion was coerced. The Appellate Division rejected his petition. The court decided that the Panel’s determination may not be disturbed since substantial evidence supports the Panel’s decision that “the Port Authority did not unduly influence or coerce petitioner’s request for demotion from the rank of sergeant to that of police officer.”

Coercion is an issue that sometimes emerges in the course of a disciplinary settlement. An individual may claim that he or she was threaten with disciplinary action if he or she declined to resign or refused to agree to some personnel change demanded by the appointing authority.

The Court of Appeals addressed this question in Rychlick v Coughlin, 63 NY2d 643.

Rychlick, a state correction officer, was told that unless he immediately submitted his resignation, formal disciplinary charges would be filed against him. He submitted his resignation.


A few days later, claiming that he had been forced to submit his resignation, Rychlick attempted to withdraw it. The department refused to allow him to withdraw the resignation and Rychlick sued on the grounds that it had been obtained under duress and thus was void.

The general rule is that a resignation must be in writing and once submitted, its withdrawal or recession requires the approval of the appointing authority.

The Court of Appeals, upholding Corrections’ refusal to allow Rychlick to withdraw the resignation, said that threatening an employee with disciplinary action if he or she did not resign did not constitute duress since the appointing authority had the legal right to file such charges.

The basic principle: threatening to do what one had the legal right to do does not constitute duress.

Another aspect of demanding that an individual submit his or her resignation or face disciplinary charges: such a resignation may be considered in determining the individual’s eligibility for public employment in the future.

Civil Service Law Section 50.4(e) authorizes the State Department of Civil Service or a civil service commission to disqualify an applicant or employee “who has been dismissed from a permanent position in the public service upon stated written charges of incompetence 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”.
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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/

A Reasonable Penalty Under The Circumstances 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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