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January 13, 2012

An appointing authority’s rejection of the disciplinary hearing officer’s recommendation must be supported by substantial evidence in the record

An appointing authority’s rejection of the disciplinary hearing officer’s recommendation must be supported by substantial evidence in the record 
Rauschmeier v Village of Johnson City, 2012 NY Slip Op 00158, Appellate Division, Third Department

The Village of Johnson City filed disciplinary charges against an employee pursuant to Civil Service Law §75. Following a disciplinary hearing, the Hearing Officer recommended that employee be found not guilty of the charges filed against him and that he be reinstated to his position with full back pay, benefits and seniority.

The Mayor of the Village, with support of the Village Board of Trustees, rejected the Hearing Officer's recommendation, found the employee guilty of misconduct and dismissed the employee from service.

Contending that the Mayor lacked the legal authority to review and reject the Hearing Officer's recommendation, the employee sued, seeking, among other things, an annulment of the penalty imposed by the Mayor. 

Although Supreme Court rejected the employee’s claim that the Mayor lacked the legal authority to review and reject the Hearing Officer's recommendation, a determination sustained by the Appellate Division,* another issue, whether the Mayor’s decision to reject the Hearing Officer's recommendation was supported by substantial evidence, was referred to, and considered by, the Appellate Division.

Addressing the Mayor’s decision to reject the Hearing Officer's recommendation, the Appellate Division said that its review of such a determination was limited to whether it is supported by substantial evidence.

When, however, the appointing authority, rejects a disciplinary recommendation made by a hearing officer after a hearing, the appointing authority must set forth in its decision "findings of fact based on competent proof contained in the record and then employ those findings to arrive at conclusions that are supported by substantial evidence."

The Appellate Division said that the Mayor, in rejecting the Hearing Officer's recommendation, referred to testimony of certain witnesses given at the hearing, but did not specify what in their testimony supported his conclusion.

More is required said the court, “especially since the other evidence introduced at the hearing – all of which is uncontradicted and not in dispute — supports the Hearing Officer's determination.”

Accordingly, the Appellate Division ruled that the Mayor’s “conclusion to the contrary was not supported by substantial evidence,” and thus his determination must be annulled and the employee reinstated to his position with full back pay and benefits.

* The Appellate Division also rejected the employee’s contention that the Mayor acted beyond his legal authority, pointing out that Civil Service Law §75(2) provides that an employee disciplinary proceeding shall be conducted "by the officer or body having the power to remove the person against whom such charges are preferred, or by a deputy or other person designated by such officer or body in writing for that purpose" and where such a designation is made, the person so designated is to make a record of the hearing  and a recommendation as to the penalty to be imposed in the event the individual is found guilty of one or more charges. The record of the hearing and the recommendation is then to "be referred to [the appointing authority] for review and decision."


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New York Public Personnel Law Blog Editor Harvey Randall served as Principal Attorney, New York State Department of Civil Service; Director of Personnel, SUNY Central Administration; Director of Research, Governor’s Office of Employee Relations; and Staff Judge Advocate General, New York Guard. Consistent with the Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations, the material posted to this blog is presented with the understanding that neither the publisher nor NYPPL and, or, its staff and contributors are providing legal advice to the reader and in the event legal or other expert assistance is needed, the reader is urged to seek such advice from a knowledgeable professional.
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