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July 10, 2014

Violating the employer’s prohibition against its employees associating with an individual associated with criminal activity

Violating the employer’s prohibition against its employees associating with an individual associated with criminal activity
Dillin v Waterfront Commn. of N.Y. Harbor, 2014 NY Slip Op 05036, Appellate  Division, First Department

Supreme Court granted a longshoreman’s [Petitioner] motion seeking to annul the determination of the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor (Commission) revoking Petitioner's longshoreman's certificate and remanded the matter for a new hearing before a different hearing officer. The Appellate Division reinstated the Commission’s determination.

The Appellate Division explained that the Commission’s finding that Petitioner “violated a prohibition against association with an identified member of an organized crime family is supported by substantial evidence,” noting that the prohibition was imposed by a federal court* pursuant to a provision* of the Waterfront and Airport Commission Act.** “prohibiting such association under circumstances rendering a person's continued participation in any activities requiring registration pursuant to the WCA to be ‘inimical to the policies of’ the WCA (Uncons Laws § 9913[6]).” The policies of the WCA, said the court, include countering organized crime and corruption which have been found to be endemic in waterfront labor practices.

In this case there was testimony that Petitioner attended two parties that were also attended by an associate of an organized crime group. The Appellate Division said that there was “sufficient evidence to refute Petitioner's claim that her attendance at the same parties as the person in question was accidental or inadvertent.” Petitioner, said the court, also admitted to making remarks to coworkers about being "best friends" with this person and "hanging out" with him, and insofar as petitioner suggested that she was not serious about such remarks, the ALJ was not required to credit her testimony.

The Appellate Division then said that it did not find that the penalty of revocation of Petitioner's registration shocking to one's sense of fairness in that by associating with individuals with connections to organized crime and boasting about such associations to other longshoremen, Petitioner “engaged in conduct which potentially undermines the Commission's continuing efforts to ensure public safety by reducing corruption on the waterfront.”

Noting that Petitioner “does not have a perfect record” in that she was suspended by the Commission for 15 days for filing a false application for longshoreman registration and  was also previously found guilty of theft by deception for continuing to receive food stamps after she had become ineligible, the court said that “In light of Petitioner's behavior in connection with the instant misconduct and on previous occasions, revocation of petitioner's registration does not shock our sense of fairness.”

An employer, particularly one engaged in law enforcement, may prohibit its employees from associating with certain individuals.

For example, the Suffolk County Police Department's rules prohibit members of the Department from "associating or fraternizing" with any person known (by the employee) to have been convicted of any misdemeanor or felony under (any) state or federal law”. A police officer, after being advised that "a close friend" was a convicted felon, decided his continued association with him would not violate Department rules because the individual's "conviction was nearly 20 years old" and he had a "certificate of relief from civil disabilities." Eventually the officer was charged pursuant to §75 of the Civil Service Law with violating Department Rules, found guilty, and had to forfeit 10 days of vacation credit as a penalty. The Court of Appeals rejected the officer's argument that the rule was unconstitutionally overbroad,*** noting that the State could regulate the off-duty conduct of its police officers even though it involved a constitutionally protected right (1st Amendment, Right of Association), the regulation was held to serve a valid governmental concern the public's perception of a police department as perceived through the conduct of the individual officers.

Indeed, in Fludd v Sielaff, 184 A.D.2d 362 (1992), the Appellate Division sustained the termination of a New York City correction officer who, when police officers seeking to execute a warrant for the arrest of her estranged husband, asked her if she knew his whereabouts, denied having seen him for three or four weeks, knowing that he was hiding in another room in her apartment. A few moments later police discovered her estranged husband and arrested him. Fludd  was charged with official misconduct for "harboring a fugitive," and for lying about her knowledge of his presence in her apartment when confronted by police seeking to arrest him. The court explained that "the commissioner was free to find that the choice [Fludd] made was utterly incompatible with her position as correction officer."

Further, the U.S. Supreme Court has refused to review an appeal of a California State Court decision, Bailey v National City, Calif., 277 Cal Rptr 427, which had sustained the termination of a police officer who was found to have violated department rules concerning outside work, used his position as a police officer for personal gain and refused to discontinue a personal association with a known felon.

* See United States v ILA Local 1588, 2003 WL 221851, 2003 US Dist LEXIS 1229 [SD NY, Jan. 30, 2003], affd 77 Fed Appx 542 [2d Cir 2003].

** Unconsolidated Laws of New York, §9801, et seq.

*** Morrisette v. Dilworth, 59 N.Y.2d 449 (1983).