Friday, July 29, 2011

An appointing authority does not have the authority to take unilateral action to dismiss an individual because of alleged pre-employment misconduct


An appointing authority does not have the authority to take unilateral action to dismiss an individual because of alleged pre-employment misconduct
Umlauf v Safir, 286 AD2d 267

Clearly, an employee may be subjected to disciplinary action for his or her off-duty misconduct that adversely affects his or her employer. If the employee is found guilty, any one of a number of penalties, including termination, may be imposed. The Umlauf case raises a related issue: what action, if any, may the appointing officer take in consideration of an employee's “pre-employment” misconduct.

In this instance the employee sued the City of New York following the Police Commissioner's dismissing him from his position without a hearing. Although the employee's petition seeking to annul the Commissioner's action was dismissed by State Supreme Court Justice William Davis, the Appellate Division reversed Justice Davis' decision “on the law.”

The Appellate Division ordered Commissioner Safir to reinstate the individual to his former position. If the Commissioner wished have the employee terminated, said the court, Safir would have to submit a request for such action in accordance with the provisions of Civil Service Law Section 50.4.

Section 50.4 provides for the disqualification of applicants or eligibles by the state civil department or responsible municipal civil service commission for a variety of reasons. The court's decision indicates that the relevant provision in this case is Section 50.4(d). Paragraph (d) authorizes the disqualification of an individual who has been guilty of a crime.

Section 50.4 further provides that “[n]o 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.”

The court found that Safir had terminated the employee because of the individual's pre-employment conduct. This, said the Appellate Division, was improper -- an appointing authority does not have the authority to take such unilateral action. The court pointed out that in this instance Section 50.4 of the Civil Service Law vests the authority to disqualify or remove the individual in the head of New York City's Department of Citywide Administrative Services, not the head of a City department or agency.

Further, the individual may neither be disqualified nor terminated, as the case may be, unless he or she is provided with a written explanation of the reasons for the proposed action and given an opportunity to submit an explanation and facts opposing such action prior to his or her disqualification for, or termination of, employment.

Where the appointing authority seeks to have an individual disqualified or employee terminated for one or more reasons set out in Section 50.4, it should so advise the State Department of Civil Service or the responsible municipal civil service commission, as the case may be, setting out its reasons for seeking the disqualification or termination of the individual.

Is the individual who is to be disqualified or terminated pursuant to Section 50.4 entitled to a hearing before the department or municipal commission? In Mingo v Pirnie, 55 NY2d 1019, the Court of Appeals ruled that no “Section 50.4 hearing” is required where the individual is advised of the reasons for the proposed action and given an opportunity to submit a written explanation and exhibits contesting his or her disqualification or termination.

Another element in this case -- the employee had also claimed that he was entitled to a name-clearing hearing. The Appellate Division, citing Swinton v Safir, 93 NY2d 758, agreed. The court said that the worker “has sufficiently raised the issues of the partial falsity and overall characterization of information included in his personnel file, the dissemination of such information, both past and future, as well as the presence of 'stigma plus' -- in this case governmental defamatory action in conjunction with loss of employment” 

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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