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November 23, 2011

Employer rejects disciplinary hearing officer's recommendation as to the penalty to be imposed


Employer rejects disciplinary hearing officer's recommendation as to the penalty to be imposed
Matter of Stanziale, 77 A.D.2d 600

An employee not entitled to notice and hearing pursuant to §75 of the Civil Service Law was terminated because of an incident that took place while at work.

He then was able to get a court order directing that the employer provide him with an opportunity to refute the allegations that resulted in his dismissal. A hearing was held and the hearing officer recommended that the penalty to be imposed be a six-month suspension without pay.

The appointing officer declined to follow the recommendation of the hearing officer and dismissed the employee, again. The employee went back to court and obtained an order directing his reinstatement on the grounds that the decision of the appointing officer was arbitrary and capricious.

Ultimately the Appellate Division ruled that although the employee was not entitled to a hearing under the Civil Service Law or the controlling collective bargaining agreement, as the basis for dismissal was of a stigmatizing nature, he was entitled to due process.

However, that was the extent of the relief to which Stanziale was entitled. As there was a rational basis for the appointing officer rejecting the recommendation of the hearing officer and dismissing the employee for the offense, the court held that the termination was neither arbitrary nor capricious and was made in good faith.

This case appears to be one of a number decided in recent years where a person not entitled to a hearing as a matter of law or contract can demand one if dismissed for what a court would view as reasons tending to stigmatize the individual.

However, if the terminated employee is vindicated as the result of a “name clearing” hearing a court may direct that the individual be reinstated where it finds that the appointing authority’s  decision to remove the employee, or possibly even the implementation of a lesser penalty, was arbitrary.

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