Establishment of positions in the Classified Service by a political subdivision of the State
In deciding this Article 78 action, the Appellate Division addressed a number of significant public personnel law issues including the establishment of positions in the Classified Service by a political subdivision of the State, jurisdictional classification of positions in the Classified Service and the impact of a Taylor Law agreement in the event there is layoff of employees in the Labor Class.
According to the decision, the Village of Spring Valley appointed three individuals [petitioners] to classified service positions of “Laborer” in the Labor Class in its Department of Public Works* and that these three individuals had “completed their probationary periods" prior to August 10, 2010.
On August 10, 2010, however, the County of Rockland Department of Personnel, the municipal civil service commission [Commission] having jurisdiction over the Village, advised Spring Valley that it had "no record of employment" for the three petitioners, citing Civil Service Law §22 [Certification for positions] and §97 [Reports of appointing officers; official rosters].
The Commission’s reference to Civil Service Law §22, Certification for positions, suggests that these were new position or existing positions in a jurisdictional class other than the Labor Class in that Section 22 provides that: “Before any new position in the service of a civil division shall be created or any existing position in such service shall be reclassified, the proposal therefor, including a statement of the duties of the position, shall be referred to the municipal commission having jurisdiction and such commission shall furnish a certificate stating the appropriate civil service title for the proposed position or the position to be reclassified. Any such new position shall be created or any such existing position reclassified only with the title approved and certified by the commission.
Significantly, Civil Service Law §44 provides that all positions in the Classified Service are in the competitive class unless placed in a different jurisdictional classification. The Appellate Division's decision, however, makes no reference to these three laborer positions having been placed in the Labor Class by amendment of the Commission's Rules, which rules are subject to the approval of the State Civil Service Commission in accordance with the provisions of Civil Service Law §20.
Accordingly, appears that the three petitioners at the time of their respective “appointment” were provisionally appointed to three “new positions in the competitive class,” and that these appointments should have been so reported to the Commission with Village’s request that the Commission amend its rules to “jurisdictional classify the three positions in the Labor Class.”
The Commission’s August 10, 2010 notification also advised the Village that the "[petitioners] without approval from this office to work must be terminated immediately unless there is a resolution to the situation."
That same day, the Village Board adopted Resolution No. 519 of 2010, unanimously resolving that the individual petitioners "shall be immediately removed” from the Village payroll and informed that they are not employees of the Village.The three individuals then filed a petition pursuant to CPLR Article 78 seeking to annul the Village’s resolution removing them from the Village payroll, to compel the Village to comply with its ministerial duty under the Civil Service Law by submitting the required paperwork to the Commission, and to reinstate them with back pay.
The petitioners also submitted evidence that another employee in the labor class with less seniority had been retained by the Village after their removal from the payroll, an action they alleged violated their “seniority rights under the governing collective bargaining agreement.”**
In response, the Village contended that in the months preceding its adoption of the resolution terminating the three petitioners it had conducted a comprehensive review of its operations and determined that the Department of Public Works "would operate more economically and efficiently by creating three new positions with the title of assistant maintenance mechanic and eliminating all positions in the labor class by attrition and/or layoffs."
In rebuttal, the petitioners submitted evidence that the new title “Assistant Maintenance Mechanic” was proposed on July 27, 2010 and notice of three vacancies in the new class was posted on that date. Accordingly the petitioners contended that the Village had not properly abolished the individual petitioner's positions on August 10, 2010, but had terminated their employment "in violation of the collective bargaining agreement and the Civil Service Law."
The Supreme Court denied the petition and dismissed the proceeding, holding that the Village had properly abolished the individual petitioners' positions for the purpose of economy or efficiency and that the petitioners had failed to allege or establish that the Village had acted in bad faith in abolishing their positions.
The Appellate Division reversed the lower court’s ruling, explaining that the Doctrine of "Legislative equivalency requires that a position created by a legislative act can only be abolished by a correlative legislative act," citing Torre v County of Nassau, 86 NY2d 42.
Here, said the court, it is undisputed that each of the individual petitioners' positions was created by resolution of the Village Board, and thus, another resolution of the Village Board was required to abolish each of those positions. Contrary to the Village's contention, the Appellate Division ruled that three positions in question were not abolished by the Village's Resolution No. 519 of 2010.
The Appellate Division explained that “The misconception of the Village Board that the positions did not exist was premised upon the Village's own failure to comply with the filing requirements of the Civil Service Law pursuant to the notification by the municipal civil service commission." The Village Board had “unanimously resolved to ‘immediately remove[ ]’ the individual petitioners from the Village payroll and to inform them that they ‘are not employees of the Village,’ rather than to remedy their filing and certification violations under the Civil Service Law.” Further, said the court, the plain language of the subject resolution “refutes the [Village's] contention that the Village Board was abolishing positions then in existence.”
Moreover, said the Appellate Division, the record supports the petitioners' contention that although the resolution “immediately removed the individual petitioners from the payroll,” the Village continued to employ another laborer with less seniority. The Appellate Division held that the petitioners established that the positions of the individual petitioners were not abolished and they were laid off in violation of the seniority provisions of the collective bargaining agreement. The court explained that the Village's action in removing the individual petitioners from the payroll was not justified by its proper creation of a new class of employees, with the intention of eliminating the labor class by attrition or layoff.
Clearly "A public employer may abolish civil service positions for the purpose of economy or efficiency, as long as the position is not abolished as a subterfuge to avoid statutory protection afforded civil servants before they are discharged."Here, however, the Appellate Division ruled that “although the evidence supported the Village’s contention that it intended to abolish the laborer positions after it had created the new class of assistant maintenance mechanic,” the evidence does not support its contention that the Village actually abolished the individual petitioners' positions in the resolution dated August 10, 2010 [emphasis in the decision].
In any event, said the court, even if the August 10 resolution could be construed to abolish the individual petitioners' positions effective August 10, 2010, the immediate termination of their employment pursuant to that resolution violated a provision in the collective bargaining agreement requiring two weeks notice prior to terminating an employee whose position has been abolished, and thus constituted improper abolishment of a civil service position "to avoid the statutory [in this instance better read “a contractual”] protection afforded civil servants before they are discharged."
The Appellate Division reversed the Supreme Court’s decision, annulled the Village’s August 10 resolution and remitted the case to the Supreme Court, Rockland County for further proceedings “including a calculation of the individual petitioners' pay retroactive to August 10, 2010.”
* The Classified Service consists of four jurisdictional classes: the Competitive Class, the Non-competitive Class; the Exempt Class and the Labor Class.
** N.B. Employees in the Labor Class are not within the ambit of either §80 or §80-a of the Civil Service Law [which sections of law provide certain rights to employees in the competitive and non-competitive classes in the event of a layoff] but employees in the Labor Class may be accorded layoff rights based on “seniority” pursuant to a Taylor Law agreement provided that any such contract right does not adversely affect the statutory layoff rights of other employees [see City of Plattsburgh v Local 788, 108 AD2d 1045].
The decision is posted on the Internet at:http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2013/2013_01826.htm