Thursday, July 31, 2014

Law enforcement officers may be held to higher standards of conduct than other civil service employees


Law enforcement officers may be held to higher standards of conduct than other civil service employees
2014 NY Slip Op 04297, Appellate Division, Fourth Department

A County Correction Officer [Petitioner] was alleged to have violated departmental rules and regulations and, after an advisory arbitration hearing, was suspended from his position without pay for 45 days.

Petitioner initiated an Article 78 proceeding seeking a court order annulling the appointing authority’s determination. Supreme Court confirmed the determination with respect to two of the three charges. The third charge, which alleged misconduct with respect to Petitioner's voluntary, off-duty attendance at a social event hosted and, or, sponsored by the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club was annulled and the matter remitted to the appointing authority "to determine whether the penalty should be adjusted as a result" of the annulling of the finding of guilt with respect to the third charge.

The Appellate Division thought differently, concluding that the determination should be confirmed in its entirety; that the petition should be dismissed and the judgment of the Supreme Court modified accordingly.

The court said that the proper standard of review is whether there is a rational basis for the determination or whether it is arbitrary and capricious, and not whether the determination is supported by substantial evidence.

The Appellate Division explained that the hearing was mandated by a collective bargaining agreement and not required by statute or law. Thus [1] the “substantial evidence” test was not applicable in this instance and [2] both the determination of guilt and the penalty imposed are subject to judicial review.

Turning to the merits of the appeal, the court said that "[a]n action is arbitrary and capricious when it is taken without sound basis in reason or regard to the facts." Further, an agency’s determination "is entitled to great deference" if the reviewing court finds that the determination is supported by a rational basis and it “must sustain the determination even if the court concludes that it would have reached a different result than the one reached by the agency."

The Appellate Division also commented that “it is well settled that law enforcement officers may be ‘held to higher standards than ordinary civil service employees’ and that an administrative determination regarding discipline will be afforded heightened deference where a law enforcement agency . . . is concerned."

Finally, the court said that the penalty is not "so disproportionate to the offense as to be shocking to one's sense of fairness," citing Matter of Pell, 34 NY2d at 222. In view of the fact Petitioner was a law enforcement officer with over 20 years of experience, the Appellate Division said that he should have known that his participation in a Hells Angels-sponsored event would raise, at the very least, an appearance of impropriety, and that such participation could potentially jeopardize his authority and effectiveness as a correction officer.

Noting that Petitioner was "unrepentant, insisting that his personal opinion of [Hells Angels] and its members was the only criterion upon which his conduct should be judged," the court said it found no basis to disturb the penalty imposed by the appointing authority.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Employer entitled to reimbursement of the cost of post-employment health insurance benefits it erroneously paid on behalf of a former employee


Employer entitled to reimbursement of the cost of post-employment health insurance benefits it erroneously paid on behalf of a former employee
2014 NY Slip Op 04203, Appellate Division, Second Department

In this action a former employee [Plaintiff] of a municipal entity [Municipality] filed a petition in the nature of mandamus to compel her former employer to provide her with post-employment health insurance benefits.

Supreme Court granted the Municipality’s motion summary judgment dismissing [1] Plaintiff’s petition for a writ of mandamus and [2] her action alleging breach of contract.

The court then granted the Municipality’s counterclaim for the reimbursement of the cost of health insurance coverage that it provided to Plaintiff since December 31, 2009, a sum in the amount of $19,866.57. The Appellate Division affirmed the Supreme Court rulings, with costs.

The Appellate Division said that the Municipality had established its entitlement to judgment as a matter of law with respect to dismissing Plaintiff’s cause of action alleging breach of contract. The Court explaining that the municipality’s resolution providing employees of the employer with post-employment health insurance benefits was limited to “employees who are retired, eligible to retire, or have reached retirement age.”

The court said that the Municipality had established a prima facie case that Plaintiff was not a "retiree," as defined in the applicable regulations, 4 NYCRR 73.1[d], [e], [f]; 73.2[a][3][iv].  Plaintiff, on the other hand, said the court, failed to raise a triable issue of fact as to whether she was a retiree or the existence of any contractual right to the Municipality’s providing her with post-employment health insurance benefits.

Further, said the Appellate Division, citing Parkview Assoc. v City of New York, 71 NY2d 274, although the Municipality may have performed an act contrary to law or made an administrative error in commencing to pay post-employment health insurance benefits on behalf of Plaintiff, as a municipal entity:

1. The Municipality cannot be estopped from denying the existence of a contractual obligation to continue making those payments and

2. The Municipality cannot be held to have ratified any such contractual obligation.

As the Municipality had also made a prima facieshowing of its entitlement to judgment as a matter of law on its counterclaim for reimbursement of the amount it erroneously paid for Petitioner’s post-employment health insurance coverage and Plaintiff failed to raise a triable issue of fact, the Appellate Division ruled that the granting of summary judgment in favor of the Municipality on its counterclaim was also proper.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

In seeking to vacate an arbitration award, the moving party must set out the grounds relied upon for setting the award aside


In seeking to vacate an arbitration award, the moving party must set out the grounds relied upon for setting the award aside
2014 NY Slip Op 04451, Appellate Division, First Department

The arbitrator had found the employee [Petitioner] guilty of certain disciplinary charges and had imposed the penalty of a thirty-day suspension without pay. A few months later Petitioner was again served with a notice of discipline and the arbitrator, finding Petitioner guilty of misconduct,  terminated his employmentt.

Petitioner appealed. Supreme Court dismissed his Article 75 petitions seeking to vacate the arbitration awards, which decisions the Appellate Division affirmed.

The Appellate Division explained that Petitioner failed to argue, “let alone set forth, any of the grounds for setting aside an arbitration award.” Further, said the court, Petitioner did not allege an statutory basis for vacating the award such as corruption, fraud or misconduct in procuring the award or partiality of the arbitrators, nor did he allege that the arbitrators exceeded their power, failed to follow the procedure set forth in CPLR Article 75, or that the award is irrational or violates public policy."

In the view of the Appellate Division, “Petitioners' allegations amount to nothing more than a claim that the arbitrators made errors of fact or law which, even if true, does not warrant vacatur of the awards.”

Selected reports and information published by New York State's Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli during the week ending July 25, 2014


Selected reports and information published by New York State's Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli during the week ending July 25, 2014
Click on text highlighted in color  to access the full report
 
Town of Berne – Procurement (Albany County)
The town board has adopted comprehensive procurement policies and procedures that provide guidance as to when items must be competitively bid and when written or verbal quotes should be obtained for purchases not required to be bid. Town officials review and update these policies annually to ensure they provide guidance for officials and employees to follow when bidding is not required by law.


Town of Broadalbin – Leave Accruals (Fulton County)
The town has not established a system to ensure that leave accruals earned and used by highway department employees are properly accounted for. Employees maintain their own leave records, including leave balances and recording leave time used and earned, without oversight and independent verification by town officials.


Lakeview Public Library – Tuition Reimbursement and Procurement (Nassau County)
The library did not use competitive methods when procuring goods and services that were not subject to competitive bidding. The board’s adopted purchasing policy did not require officials to solicit competitive proposals prior to engaging the services of professional service providers. In addition, the board did not properly authorize all tuition reimbursements paid to the director.


Village of North Syracuse – Claims Audit (Onondaga County)
The board needs to improve internal controls over the claims audit process. Although the clerk-treasurer reviews each individual claim on the abstracts, the board reviews and approves the abstracts without reviewing the actual claims.


Town of Thurston – Financial Condition (Steuben County)
The board did not adopt structurally balanced budgets or consistently monitor the budget. As a result, the general fund reported a deficit unexpended fund balance of $18,343 on Dec. 31, 2012. Although fund balance increased to approximately $9,000 in 2013, this amount is insufficient to cover unexpected expenses.


Town of Willsboro – Internal Controls Over Selected Financial Operations (Essex County)
The town clerk did not maintain adequate, accurate and complete records and reports. In addition, collections for clerk fees and real property taxes were not physically secured prior to deposit, were not deposited timely and intact and were not remitted to the appropriate party timely or in the appropriate amounts. Auditors also found that the board did not audit the records of the clerk as required.


York Fire Department – Controls Over Financial Activities (Livingston County)
The board did not adopt financial policies and procedures addressing cash receipts and disbursements, procurement, or claims processing and review, and has not adopted a written code of ethics. Further, the board did not require the treasurer to provide it with adequate monthly reports that included receipt, asset and liability information.
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A two-month suspension without pay rather than termination ruled the appropriate penalty in view of employee's 29 years of service and her previously unblemished work record


A two-month suspension without pay rather than termination ruled the appropriate penalty in view of employee's 29 years of service and her previously unblemished work record
2014 NY Slip Op 04660, Appellate Division, Fourth Department

A senior account clerk-typist [Petitioner] was charged with incompetence and misconduct in the performance of her duties. The hearing officer sustained one of the three specifications of incompetence and one of the two specifications of misconduct and recommended that Petitioner be placed on “an employee improvement plan” in lieu of discipline. The appointing authority adopted the findings of the hearing officer and sustained an additional specification of incompetence. It then imposed the penalty of termination and dismissed the Petitioner.

After reviewing all of the disciplinary charges and specifications filed against the employee, the Appellate Division said that it was “left with two specifications of incompetence, i.e., failure to bill for services in a timely manner and failure to deposit cash and checks in a timely manner.”

The Appellate Division said that the appointing authority acknowledged that Petitioner did not misuse or misappropriate any of the funds at issue, and there was no evidence that the employer had lost revenue or otherwise suffered financial harm as a result of Petitioner's delay in processing invoices or preparing funds for deposit. Further, said the court, the record showed that there were several factors beyond Petitioner's control that contributed to the delays and the appointing authority conceded that there were no rules, regulations, or written policies with respect to the timing of invoices or deposits, and Petitioner's direct supervisor testified that he never directed Petitioner to send out invoices or prepare funds for deposit within a particular period of time.*

The court noted that although there was a six-month period during which Petitioner failed to prepare any invoices, the record reflects that Petitioner was ill and intermittently absent from work during several of those months, that no one performed Petitioner's duties during her absence, and that several of Petitioner's completed invoices were inadvertently deleted by the employer’s informational technology department.

Accordingly, the Appellate Division “unanimously modified on the law” the appointing officer’s determination part of the determination and vacated the penalty of termination imposed by the appointing authority.

The court concluded that the penalty of termination is "so disproportionate to the offense, in the light of all the circumstances, as to be shocking to one's sense of fairness," citing Matter of Pell, 34 NY2d 222.  233; see Johnson, 281 AD2d at 895). It then explained that "[A] result is shocking to one's sense of fairness if the sanction imposed is so grave in its impact on the individual subjected to it that it is disproportionate to the misconduct, incompetence, failure or turpitude of the individual, or to the harm or risk of harm to the agency or institution, or to the public generally.”

In our view, said the Appellate Division, “the penalty of termination is particularly unfair in light of Petitioner's long service to the City and her previously unblemished work record,” noting that prior to the initiation of this disciplinary action Petitioner had worked for the City for 29 years and had never been disciplined, threatened with discipline, or counseled with respect to her job performance.

Under the circumstances, the Appellate Division concluded that "the maximum penalty supported by the record" is a two-month period of suspension without pay.

* The court noted that although there was a six-month period during which Petitioner failed to prepare any invoices, the record reflects that Petitioner was ill and intermittently absent from work during several of those months, that no one performed Petitioner's duties during her absence, and that several of Petitioner's completed invoices were inadvertently deleted by the employer’s informational technology department.

________________________

A Reasonable Disciplinary Penalty Under the Circumstances - a 442-page volume focusing on determining an appropriate disciplinary penalty to be imposed on an employee in the public service in instances where the employee has been found guilty of misconduct or incompetence. Now available in two formats - as a large, paperback print edition, and as an e-book. For more information click on http://booklocker.com/books/7401.html
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Monday, July 28, 2014

Insubordination, neglect of duty, and unbecoming conduct


Insubordination, neglect of duty, and unbecoming conduct
OATH Index No. 1372/14

A respiratory therapist [RT] was charged with insubordination, neglect of duty, and unbecoming conduct. OATH Administrative Law Judge Faye Lewis found that RT neglected his duty by failing to answer multiple telephone calls from the emergency room relating to a trauma patient and failing to respond to the emergency room in a timely manner. 

However, the appointing authority did not establish that RT was insubordinate or that he engaged in unbecoming conduct by initiating an argument with staff. Penalty recommended was a 60-day suspension without pay.

The decision is posted on the Internet at: http://archive.citylaw.org/oath/11_Cases/14-1372.pdf

Failure to name necessary parties required the dismissal of an appeal to the Commissioner of Education


Failure to name necessary parties required the dismissal of an appeal to the Commissioner of Education
Decisions of the Commissioner of Education, Decision No. 16,607

This appeal concerned the school district’s alleged failure to recall an individual whose name appeared on the relevant preferred eligible list who claimed to have greater seniority that those reinstated from the preferred list.

It is instructive in that it again illustrates the critical need to join necessary parties, a party whose rights would be adversely affected by a determination of an appeal in favor of a Petitioner.

Further, joinder requires that an individual be clearly named as a respondent in the caption and served with a copy of the notice of petition and petition to inform the individual that he or she should respond to the petition and enter a defense.

In this instance, said the Commissioner, if the Petitioner’s request for relief were granted, the rights of the three duly certified teachers earlier appointed, each of whom allegedly had less seniority in the relevant tenure area than Petitioner, could be adversely affected, thus making those teachers necessary parties to this action.

As Petitioner failed to name and serve these individuals, the Commissioner dismissed Petitioner’s appeal.

The Commissioner also noted that that Petitioner had named the superintendent in the petition. However, there was no evidence in the record that the superintendent was personally served and thus Petitioner’s claims against the superintendent were also be dismissed for lack of personal service.

As to Petitioner request attorney fees and reimbursement for the costs and disbursements of this proceeding, the Commissioner noted that there was no statutory authority to award monetary damages, costs or reimbursements in an appeal pursuant to Education Law §310.

A court will confirm an arbitration award unless it finds the award irrational or violates public policy, or exceeds a specifically enumerated limitation on the arbitrator's power


A court will confirm an arbitration award unless it finds the award irrational or it violates strong public policy, or it exceeds a specifically enumerated limitation on the arbitrator's power
Professional Firefighters Assn. of Nassau County v Village of Garden City, 2014 NY Slip Op 05343, Appellate Division, Second Department

The Village Garden City assigned volunteer firefighters to operated “first line” equipment rather than to paid firefighters represented by the Professional Firefighters Association of Nassau County. The Association grieved the Village’s action and the arbitrator held that the Village had violated the relevant collective bargaining agreement by assigning the operation of first line equipment to volunteer firefighters.

When the Association filed an Article 75 petition seeking to confirm the award, the Village moved to vacate the arbitrator’s decision. Supreme Court vacated the arbitrator’s award and the Association appealed.

The Appellate Division reversed the Supreme Court order on the law, with costs, confirming the arbitration award is granted. The court explained that arbitration decisions are entitled to deference from the courts and will not be disturbed unless they are irrational, violate public policy, or exceed a specifically enumerated limitation on the arbitrator's power.

Rejecting the Village’s argument to the contrary, the Appellate Division said that “challenged arbitration award did not exceed a specifically enumerated limitation on the arbitrator's power.’  Rather, said the court, the arbitrator acted within her broad authority under the collective bargaining agreement by relying upon the prior agreements and past practices of the parties in interpreting the provisions of the agreement, and in determining that the Village violated it by assigning the operation of first line equipment to volunteer firefighters rather than to paid firefighters represented by the [Association].

As the arbitrator's award was neither irrational nor violative of public policy, the Appellate Division held that Supreme Court erred in denying that branch of the petition which was to confirm the award and in granting the Village's motion to vacate it.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority is seeking applicants for the position of Deputy General Counsel – Employment


The New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority is seeking applicants for the position of Deputy General Counsel – Employment

The Deputy General Counsel – Employment reports to the General Counsel and serves as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s senior in-house employment law expert.

Duties include managing the employment functions of the MTA Headquarters Legal Department; representing the MTA in litigation and administrative matters before federal and state courts and various administrative agencies, including the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, State Division of Human Rights and State Public Employment Relations Board, providing day-to-day legal advice and counsel to MTA's Human Resources and Labor Relations Departments and Department of Diversity and Civil Rights regarding employment, employment discrimination and labor issues and for developing policies and procedures in those areas.

Other duties include:

■ Coordinating with the MTA's subsidiary and affiliated agencies' law departments, equal employment opportunity specialists and human resources managers concerning certain all-agency policies and initiatives in the labor and employment areas;

■ Advising MTA and its agencies on issues involving Title VI, environmental justice, equal employment opportunity, personal privacy protections (including HIPAA), MTA's disadvantaged, minority and women-owned business enterprise ("DMWBE") programs, Paratransit and ADA station accessibility matters;

■ Coordinating reporting by the MTA and its agencies to MTA's Board and to federal and state regulatory authorities, including the Federal Transit Administration concerning Title VI, equal employment opportunity and MTA's DMWBE programs;

■ Advising MTA management concerning the legal risks related to employment practices to protect MTA's interests; and

■ Supporting the General Counsel in the performance of his accountabilities by providing him with legal and policy advice representing the MTA in complex and sensitive special assignments as requested by the General Counsel..

The Deputy General Counsel – Employment will be expected to provide guidance, advice, and general supervision to assistant and, or, associate counsels.

Additional information concerning this position is posted on MTA's Internet Careers page.

Interested attorneys may submit their “online application” form by clicking on the “APPLY NOW” button from either the MTA’s CAREERS page or from the JOB DESCRIPTION page, which can be found at:


under MTA Headquarters jobs. 

If you have previously applied on line for other MTA positions, enter your User Name and Password.  If it is your first registration, click on the CLICK HERE TO REGISTER hyperlink and enter a User Name and Password; then click on the REGISTER button.
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Termination during a disciplinary probation period

Termination during a disciplinary probation period
2014 NY Slip Op 05347, Appellate Division, Second Department

An employee [Petitioner] filed an Article 78 petition challenging the appointing authority's summarily terminating him from his position.

Earlier Petitioner, a Safety and Security Officer, was served with a notice of discipline alleging that he was guilty of misconduct when, among other things, he failed to properly activate the emergency medical system. Petitioner and the appointing authority then entered into a disciplinary settlement agreement that provided Petitioner would serve a one-year disciplinary evaluation period during which time the appointing authority could terminate his employment should he commit any act that was the same as, or similar to, the acts underlying the charges cited in the notice of discipline.

During the “disciplinary evaluation period” Petitioner was sent a letter of termination in which the appointing authority stated that “Petitioner failed to respond appropriately to an emergency situation.”

The Appellate Division, noting that “The disciplinary settlement agreement entered into by the parties constituted a valid, binding contract,” dismissed Petitioner’s action.

The court explained that under the terms of this agreement, the Petitioner would be permitted to continue his employment notwithstanding the prior notice of discipline and he, in turn, agreed to the termination of his employment during the disciplinary evaluation period for any act that was deemed to be the same as or similar to the acts underlying the charges cited in the notice of discipline.

Petitioner, in agreeing to the terms set out in the disciplinary settlement agreement, absent bad faith on the part of the appointing authority, waived any right he may have had under the operative collective bargaining agreement to a review of the appointing authority’s decision to terminate his employment “for acts the same as or similar to his prior alleged misconduct.”

Finding that the appointing authority’s decision to terminate his employment was rationally based and thus was not arbitrary and capricious, in the absence of Petitioner demonstrating that his termination was carried out in bad faith or illegally accomplished, the Appellate Division sustained Petitioner's being summarily removal from his position

Further, said the court, Petitioner failed to raise an issue of fact sufficient to warrant a hearing as otherwise provided pursuant to §7804(h) of the Civil Practice Law and Rules [CPLR].

In contrast, in Taylor v Cass, 122 A.D.2d 885, a County employee won reinstatement with full retroactive salary and contract benefits because the court determined that he was improperly dismissed while serving a disciplinary probation period. The terms of Taylor’s probation provided that he could be terminated without any hearing if, in the opinion of his superior, his job performance was “adversely affected” by his “intoxication on the job” at any time during his disciplinary probationary period. Taylor was subsequently terminated without a hearing for “failing to give a fair day’s work” and “sleeping during scheduled working hours.”

The Appellate Division ruled that Taylor’s dismissal was improper because Taylor was not terminated for the sole reason specified in the settlement agreement: intoxication on the job.

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Failure to fulfill the requirements for an extension of a leave of absence


Failure to fulfill the requirements for an extension of a leave of absence
OATH Index No. 749/14

New York City Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings Administrative Law Judge John B. Spooner recommended the termination of employment of a service aide for excessive absence and absence without leave.

The ALJ rejected the aide’s claim that he was unable to work due to disability and that his employer improperly denied his leave request.

Judge Spooner noted that the employee had been granted a two-month medical leave and was told that if he needed to extend the leave he must request the extension with documentation of his “diagnosis, prognosis, and dates unable to work” prior to the expiration of the leave. 

ALJ Spooner found respondent failed to fulfill the requirements for an extension. His formal extension request was filed months late and the medical notes he submitted gave no information as to treatment and were vague as to prognosis.

The decision is posted on the Internet at http://archive.citylaw.org/oath/14_Cases/14-749.pdf
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Thursday, July 24, 2014

A court’s review of an administrative decision supported by substantial evidence is limited to determining if it was arbitrary, capricious or affected by error of law

A court’s review of an administrative decision supported by substantial evidence is limited to determining if it was arbitrary, capricious or affected by error of law

2014 NY Slip Op 04637, Appellate Division, Fourth Department

Petitioner [Plaintiff] commenced this proceeding pursuant to CPLR Article 78 challenging an administrative determination terminating his General Municipal Law §207-c benefits on the ground that his current disability was not related to an injury suffered on-the-job.

Supreme Court refused to transfer the proceeding to the Appellate Division pursuant to CPLR §7804(g), holding that Plaintiff’s petition did not raise an issue involving whether the administrative decision was supported by substantial evidence.

The Appellate Division affirmed the Supreme Court’s decision explaining that "Where, as here, a petition does not raise a substantial evidence issue, a court's inquiry is limited to whether [the administrative determination] was arbitrary, capricious or affected by error of law."

In this instance, said the Appellate Division, the record supports the Supreme Court’s conclusion that the administrative decision terminating Plaintiff’s General Municipal Law §207-c benefits “was neither arbitrary and capricious, i.e., without sound basis in reason and . . . without regard to the facts … nor affected by an error of law.”

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An educator is eligible for unemployment insurance benefits during the summer recess unless given a reasonable assurance of continued employment in the next semester


An educator is eligible for unemployment insurance benefits during the summer recess unless given a reasonable assurance of continued employment in the next semester
Matter of Erie Community Coll. [Commissioner of Labor], 2014 NY Slip Op 04995, Appellate Division, Third Department

An adjunct professor [Professor] employed by Erie County Community College taught two courses during the Spring semester. In April Professor received an offer to teach two courses in the following Fall semester at the same rate of pay. Professor accepted the offer and then applied for unemployment insurance benefits for the summer recess period.

Notwithstanding §590.10 of the Labor Law, which, in pertinent part, provides that a professional employed by an educational institution is ineligible for unemployment insurance benefits for any period between two successive academic years when he or she has received a reasonable assurance of continued employment, the Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board determined that Professor was eligible to receive unemployment insurance benefits during the recess period.*

The Board explained that it a reasonable assurance of continued employment by the College was lacking as the College’s offer of employment for the fall semester given to Professor indicated a current full-time professors could, at any time up to the first day of classes, displace Professor and teach the courses assigned to him themselves.

The Appellate Division sustained the Board’s determination, explaining that the question of whether a claimant received a reasonable assurance of reemployment for the following academic year is a question of fact and, if the Board's findings in that regard are supported by substantial evidence, it will not be disturbed.

The Appellate Division concluded that the Board's decision was supported by substantial evidence and declined to disturb it.

*§590.11 of the Labor Law applies with respect to the non-professional staff of an educational institution.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Although an administrator may have certain powers to administer a statute, he or she lacks authority to supplement or amend duly enacted legislation


Although an administrator may have certain powers to administer a statute, he or she lacks authority to supplement or amend duly enacted legislation
Hazan v WTC Volunteer Fund, 2014 NY Slip Op 04103, Appellate Division, Third Department

A former emergency medical technician [EMT] went to World Trade Center site to offer assistance in the rescue and recovery efforts on September 11, 2001. He served as a volunteer at a triage center that was being established at the Chelsea Piers and sorting supplies and setting up a treatment area. The following day, EMT went to ground zero, using his emergency medical technician card and badge to gain access to the site and attempted to search for survivors. The EMT, however, was not registered or affiliated with any volunteer organization or agency during the course of these two days, and he did not aid in the rescue or recovery operations after September 12, 2001.

In March 2010, EMT registered his participation as a volunteer in the World Trade Center rescue, recovery and/or cleanup operations with the Workers' Compensation Board and filed this claim for workers' compensation benefits for injuries allegedly sustained as a result of his exposure to dust and toxins at the sites at which he served as a volunteer pursuant to Workers' Compensation Law Article 8-A. A Workers' Compensation Law Judge [WCLJ] found that EMT had sustained a compensable injury and awarded him certain benefits. The World Trade Center Volunteer Fund, however, sought review of the WCLJ's decision, contending that EMT t failed to meet the definition of "volunteer" because he did not provide proof that he was acting under the direction and control of a volunteer agency.

The Workers’ Compensation Appeal reversed the WCLJ's decision, finding that EMT did not meet the definition of "first response emergency services personnel" as set forth in the final revised Order of the Chair No. 967 issued by the Board's chair in 2006 and, thus he did not qualify as a volunteer. EMT appealed.

The Appellate Division overturned the Board’s determination in view of the legislative history of Article 8-A, several bills were circulated in the Legislature that defined a "volunteer rescue worker" as one who "rendered service under the direction and control of an authorized rescue entity." Significantly, said the court, r, such language is not included in Workers' Compensation Law Article 8-A, and "[t]he deletion of this explicit language from the version of [Workers' Compensation Law Article 8-A]; that finally passed is persuasive evidence that the Legislature rejected" the more restrictive definition of volunteer that originally was proposed.

Further, the Appellate Division said that to the extent that the Board has consistently relied upon the final revised Order of the Chair No. 9 in denying benefits to volunteers who were not affiliated with an authorized rescue entity or volunteer association, “we need note only that while Workers' Compensation Law §141 vests the Board's chair with certain powers to administer the provisions of the Workers' Compensation Law, it does not vest him or her with the authority to supplement or amend duly enacted legislation.”

Citing Russomanno v Leon Decorating Co., whatever the net effect of such orders may be, they "cannot overrule the statute itself," neither the statutory language nor the legislative history supports the Board's requirement that an individual be affiliated with an authorized rescue entity or volunteer agency in order to qualify as a volunteer and, hence, be eligible for the coverage afforded under the statute.

Accordingly, the Appellate Division held that the Board's decision denying EMTs application for benefits upon this particular ground cannot stand, although EMT must still satisfy the time, location and activity elements of Workers' Compensation Law Article 8-A in order to be entitled to benefits. The court then remitted the matter to the Board “for consideration of those issues and, more to the point, the sufficiency of claimant's proof thereon.”


Wrongfully obtaining and divulging confidential information from a department’s computer database


Wrongfully obtaining and divulging confidential information from a department’s computer database
2014 NY Slip Op 04421, Appellate Division, First Department

In this appeal the Appellate Division affirmed the termination of a police officer [Officer] but awarded the individual “back pay for the period in which he was suspended without pay beyond the 30 days permitted by Civil Service Law §75(3-a).”*

Following a disciplinary hearing, the hearing officer sustained three of the charges filed against Officer: that Officer wrongfully accessed and subsequently obtained confidential information from the agency's Computer System and which was not related to the official business of the Department; Officer did wrongfully divulge or discuss official Department business without permission or authority to do so; and that “with intent to obtain a benefit or deprive another of a benefit, ... [Officer] obtained confidential information” from the Computer System, which was not related to the official business of the Department and divulged said information to another police officer.

The Appellate Division rejected Officer’s argument that his actions did not constitute official misconduct because there is no evidence that he acted "with intent to obtain a benefit or deprive another person of a benefit" (see Penal Law §195.00[1]).

The court explained that the term “Benefit” means “any gain or advantage to the beneficiary and includes any gain or advantage to a third person pursuant to the desire or consent of the beneficiary," citing Penal Law §10.00[17]. This "includes more than financial gain and can encompass political or other types of advantage."

Here, said the Appellate Division, it can be reasonably inferred that Officer intended to obtain a benefit for his fellow officer and friend within the meaning of the statute when he accessed confidential information in the computer system and confirmed for the friend the scope of the allegations of the complainant in the disciplinary investigation against him.

Under the circumstances, the Appellate Division held that “The penalty of termination is not so disproportionate to the offense as to be shocking to one's sense of fairness,” citing Kelly v Safir, 96 NY2d 32,

Officer, said the court, “betrayed his position of trust as [an individual] who was privy to very sensitive information, and breached his confidentiality agreement with the police department, which stated that the wrongful disclosure of information would not be tolerated by the department and that divulging or discussing official department business except as authorized, constituted prohibited conduct and might constitute official misconduct under Penal Law §195.00(1).

* The appointing authority conceded that Officer was entitled to back pay for the period of time for which he was suspended without pay in excess of 30 days.

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A Reasonable Disciplinary Penalty Under the Circumstances - a 442-page volume focusing on determining an appropriate disciplinary penalty to be imposed on an employee in the public service in instances where the employee has been found guilty of misconduct or incompetence. Now available in two formats - as a large, paperback print edition, and as an e-book. For more information click on http://booklocker.com/books/7401.html
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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Individuals applying for State Civil Service Examinations must use a new application form dated (6/14)


Individuals applying for State Civil Service Examinations must use a new application form dated (6/14)
Source: New York State Department of Civil Service General Information Bulletin No. 14-02

Scott DeFruscio, Director of Staffing Services, New York State Department of Civil Service has advised that the Department has revised its examination application, NYSAPP, to allow the Department to collect the necessary information to determine if disabled veterans are eligible for additional credits for subsequent open-competitive or promotion appointments, as provided for in an amendment to Article 5, §6 to the New York Constitution.

For more information on the amendment, see GIB #13-01.

Revisions have been made in the online application as well as the PDF version of the application available for candidate use from the Department’s web site. In addition, most special applications available to candidates from the Department’s web site have also been revised. It is anticipated that all special applications will be revised and reissued by the end of July 2014.

Agencies having any announced examinations requiring the use of a special application and need more specific information concerning the status of your agency’s special examination application, are requested to contact its Staffing Services Representative.

Candidates must use the new application dated (6/14) to apply for any future examinations. The Department requests that any copies of previous versions of State applications be destroyed and that agencies request a supply of new form using the information below.

Agencies requiring a supply of paper copies of Examination Applications should send an email to printshop@cs.ny.gov. Requesters should enter “Exam Application Order” in the subject line. The body of the email should include
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1. The name of the person to whom the applications are to be sent;

2. The number of applications needed; and,

3. A mailing address where the applications should be sent.

The Department advises that when ordering copies of applications, agencies should allow three weeks for delivery.
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An administrative body may overrule its administrative precedent


An administrative body may overrule its own administrative precedent
2014 NY Slip Op 04550, Appellate Division, Third Department

In this appeal one of the issued concerned an administrative agency, the Workers’ Compensation Board, overruling its own precedent. The Appellate Division sustained the Board’s action, noting that in so doing:

1. The Board discussed its precedent at length and overruled it;

2. The Board was free to overrule its precedent given that it "set forth its reasons for doing so;" and

3. The Board had considered appropriate statutory and judicial authorities in concluding that its precedent should be overruled.

The Appellate Division said that the interpretation of the relevant Workers' Compensation Law presents a question "of pure statutory reading and analysis, dependent only on accurate apprehension of legislative intent" and thus it need not defer to the Board's reading of the statute. However, said the court, “We nevertheless agree with the Board's present interpretation thereof.”

Unemployment insurance claim filed by terminated employee may be denied on the basis of the findings of a disciplinary arbitrator under the doctrine of “collateral estoppel”


Unemployment insurance claim filed by terminated employee may be denied on the basis of the findings of a disciplinary arbitrator under the doctrine of “collateral estoppel”
2014 NY Slip Op 04546, Appellate Division, Third Department

An employee [Claimant] challenged his termination from his position in accordance with the disciplinary grievance procedure set out in the relevant collective bargaining agreement. After a full evidentiary arbitration hearing, at which Claimant was represented by counsel, the arbitrator determined that Claimant was guilty of the charges filed against him and that there was “just cause” for his dismissal from his position.

Claimant then applied for unemployment insurance benefits. The Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board, adopting the arbitrator's findings of fact and denied Claimant's application for unemployment insurance benefits. The Board ruled that Claimant had lost his employment due to disqualifying misconduct within the meaning of the Unemployment Insurance Law.

Contending that the Board erred in giving “collateral estoppel effect" to the arbitrator's factual findings and that the Board's decision was not supported by substantial evidence, Claimant appealed the Board’s determination.

The Appellate Division affirmed the Board’s ruling explaining that where the record establishes that there was “a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issue of the conduct precipitating termination in an arbitration proceeding, the arbitrator's factual findings must be accorded collateral estoppel effect."

Here, said the court, a review of the record confirms that the Board properly took into account the arbitrator's factual findings regarding Claimant's conduct underlying the disciplinary charges filed against him and made an independent evaluation as to whether Claimant's behavior constituted “disqualifying misconduct” for the purposes of unemployment insurance.

Noting that the arbitrator had found Claimant guilty of fighting with a coworker – behavior that has been held to constitute “disqualifying misconduct” -- the Appellate Division said that substantial evidence supported the Board's finding that Claimant was disqualified from receiving unemployment insurance benefits under the circumstances and affirmed the Board’s decision.
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Monday, July 21, 2014

Disciplinary arbitration award remanded for reconsideration of the appropriate penalty to be imposed for a second time


Disciplinary arbitration award remanded for reconsideration of the appropriate penalty to be imposed for a second time
Social Services Employees Union v City of New York, 2014 NY Slip Op 04120, Appellate Division, First Department

In 2009 Supreme Court, New York County granted the Social Services Employees Union’s [Union] petition to confirm a disciplinary arbitration award that reinstated its member [Employee] to his former position and awarded him back pay and seniority.

The Appellate Division unanimously reversed the Supreme Court’s ruling, on the law, and remanded the matter to the arbitrator for a determination of an appropriate penalty * The Appellate Division explained that the arbitrator's "failure to give preclusive effect to Employee’s guilty plea of petit larceny" was irrational. The court noted that the arbitrator's award placed Employee back into a position where he has the responsibility to voucher property of individuals being brought into a juvenile facility.

In reconsideration of the penalty to be imposed upon the remand, the arbitrator issued an arbitration award that directed Employee’s reinstatement “to a civil service position with certain limitations of responsibility, along with an award of full back pay, seniority and benefits.” Supreme Court granted the Union’s Article 75 petition to confirm this second arbitration award. The City appealed.

The Appellate Division again vacated Supreme Court’s action, holding that “The award issued upon remand by the arbitrator was irrational as it was not in accord with [its] directive that [the Union] member's criminal conviction mandated a finding of employee misconduct warranting a penalty.” Here, said the court, the reinstatement of Employee "to a civil service position with certain limitations of responsibility, along with an award of full back pay, seniority and benefits, effectively did not impose any penalty.”

The Appellate Division then remanded the matter to a different arbitrator for the purpose of setting an appropriate penalty, which, said the court, could be any penalty within the range of penalties available to the arbitrator to impose.

Judges Saxe and Freedman, dissented, indicating that, in their view, “the award was rational and complied with this Court's directions in its prior order in this matter.

In situations where an employee is charged with misconduct after he or she has been convicted of a crime involving the same unlawful action or activity, the accused individual may argue that "double jeopardy" bars his or her being subjected to administrative disciplinary action involving the same events that led to his or her conviction of a crime. 

Although the Double Jeopardy Clause in the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits anyone from being prosecuted twice for substantially the same crime and is typically raised as a "procedural defense" in a criminal proceeding, does not bar the filing administrative disciplinary charges against an individual against whom criminal charges have been filed involving the same event or events. 

Indeed, as the Appellate Division held in Kelly v Levin, 81 A.D.2d 1005, if an individual has been found guilty of criminal conduct in a criminal trial, a disciplinary hearing panel cannot find the individual not guilty of the same offense[s] in a subsequent administrative disciplinary action

Although an individual may be found not guilty of alleged criminal acts in a criminal action, he or she may be found guilty of such conduct in an administrative proceeding as there is a lesser standard of proof to be met in the case of an administrative action. In an administrative proceeding a person must be proved guilty of the acts or omissions alleged by "substantial evidence." In contrast, in a criminal trial "guilt beyond a reasonable doubt" must be proved by the charging party.

* See Matter of Social Servs. Empls. Union, Local 371 v City of N.Y., Dept. of Juvenile Justice, 82 A.D.3d 644
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A school board must comply with its own rules and regulations, which have the force and effect of law


A school board must comply with its own rules and regulations, which have the force and effect of law
2014 NY Slip Op 05014, Appellate Division, Third Department

A former employee [Petitioner] of the school district filed a complaint with Board of Education alleging that the school superintendent, among others, had subjected her to unlawful discrimination and harassment. She further alleged that she was forced to retire from her position due to retaliation.

The Board, because the superintendent was allegedly involved in such unlawful activities, appointed independent counsel, MP, to investigate Petitioner's complaints. MP’s final report recommended that Petitioner’s complaint be dismissed. Petitioner then requested a copy of the full report and a hearing before the Board on her appeal challenging MP's findings. Her request for a hearing was refused and the Board only provided Petitioner with the three-page conclusion section of MP’s 73-page report

Petitioner initiated an Article 78 proceeding, seeking a court order compelling the Board to release MP’s full report to her pursuant to the Board's regulations and to hold an evidentiary hearing on her appeal of MP's findings.

Focusing on the issue concerning the releasing the full report, this aspect of Petitioner’s action was “in the nature of mandamus.”*  Such an action is initiated "to enforce a clear legal right where the public official has failed to perform a duty enjoined by law," and is available only "to compel a governmental entity or officer to perform a ministerial duty,”

Supreme Court had ruled that Petitioner had the right to a hearing before the Board and to a copy of the report, but directed the Board to submit the report for in camera** review by the court “given the confidential nature of the disclosures contained in it.” Supreme Court ultimately concluded that the report was "inappropriate for comprehensive redaction," and issued an order directing that only MP's truncated report be disclosed to Petitioner.

Petitioner appealed, contending that Supreme Court erred in failing to compel the Board to release MP’s full report to her in accordance with the Board's policies and regulations. The Appellate Division agreed, noting that the relevant Board regulations provided that "a written record of the investigation and any action taken will be established," and contemplates that the complainant would receive a copy of the complaint officer's [here MP’s] report. The court further noted that “it is well settled that absent a conflict with a statute, the rules and regulations promulgated by a board of education have the force of law and are binding upon it.”

Under the Board’s regulations Petitioner would have received both a copy of the complaint officer's report and all reports issued by the superintendent on either the investigation or the outcome of the proceeding. No report was issued by the superintendent, who in this instance was named as a respondent in Petitioner's complaint. Accordingly, MP prepared the written report of the investigation made at the Board’s request.

Although Petitioner argued that the Board regulations mandated full disclosure of MP's report, the Board contended that it correctly provided Petitioner with only the three-page conclusion section of MP’s 73-page report "because the regulation requires the release only of the superintendent's report."

The Appellate Division said that in its view, the Board's interpretation “is inconsistent with the language of the regulation, which is mandatory" and requires that both the complainant and those accused of wrongdoing "will have received at least one report pertaining to the investigation/outcome of the formal complaint prior to the Board holding a hearing on the matter.”

The court then observed that “Even assuming that [MP] was appointed to perform only the complaint officer's role — as opposed to the superintendent's role — in the adjudicatory structure set forth in the regulation, a complainant is entitled to a copy of the complaint officer's report under the regulation. Nevertheless, the Board failed to provide either [Petitioner] or this Court with a copy of the report.”

Supreme Court had concluded that the entirety of the report should not be released because it is "more or less a journal . . . full of conjecture and hearsay and all kinds of materials that were, maybe, proper for [MP] to consider in reaching her conclusions, but certainly didn't need to be put into that kind of report." The Appellate Division disagreed, stating that “The quality and style of the report, however, does not impact [Petitioner's] right to receive it under [the Board’s regulation].”

The bottom line: the Appellate Division ruled that “Under these circumstances, [Petitioner] has established both a clear legal right to relief and that the [Board’s] duty to disclose the report was nondiscretionary. Accordingly, [the Board] must be compelled to comply with the terms of [its regulation] and release the full [MP] report to [Petitioner]”

* The writ of mandamus, granted by a court to compel an official to perform "acts that officials are duty-bound to perform." Other ancient “common law” writs included the writ of prohibition -- issued by a higher tribunal to a lower tribunal to "prohibit" the adjudication of a matter then pending before the lower tribunal on the grounds that the lower tribunal "lacked jurisdiction;" the writ of injunction - a judicial order preventing a public official from performing an act; the writ of "certiorari," compelling a lower court to send its record of a case to the higher tribunal for review by the higher tribunal; and the writ of “quo warranto” [by what authority] used to challenge a person's right to hold a public or corporate office. The Civil Practice Law and Rules sets out the modern equivalents of the surviving ancient writs.

** Latin for "in chambers." In this instance Supreme Court privately looks at MP’s report to determine what, if any, information may be revealed to a party or made public.
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Friday, July 18, 2014

If a preexisting dormant disease is aggravated by an accident, resulting in a disability that did not previously exist, the accident is responsible for the ensuing disability


If a preexisting dormant disease is aggravated by an accident, resulting in a disability that did not previously exist, the accident is responsible for the ensuing disability
2014 NY Slip Op 05007, Appellate Division, Third Department

A lieutenant with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey [Lieutenant], applied for performance of duty and accidental disability retirement benefits in 2009, claiming that he was permanently incapacitated due to injuries to his back and right shoulder sustained as the result of a 2009 accident.

As to Lieutenant’s medical condition, his neurologist concluded that he suffered from a progressive narrowing of the spinal canal and, due to the 2009 accident, disc herniation was causing nerve root compression. In contrast, the Retirement Systems orthopedic surgeon concluded that the disc herniation and shoulder injury were degenerative in nature and caused by the early injuries and surgeries, rather than the 2009 accident, which had caused only a temporary exacerbation of Lieutenant's underlying arthritic condition.

The Hearing Officer recommended that Lieutenant 's applications be denied on the ground that he did not prove that his conceded disability resulted from the 2009 accident. Adopting the hearing officer’s findings and recommendation, the Comptroller denied Lieutenant’s application and he appealed.

The Appellate Division annulled the Comptroller’s determination, explaining that it has repeatedly held that "'when a preexisting dormant disease is aggravated by an accident, thereby causing a disability that did not previously exist, the accident is responsible for the ensuing disability”

Although the Retirement System's expert speculated that Lieutenant had suffered a number of injuries prior to 2009, “It is undisputed that he returned to full duty” after those events and thereafter after he suffered an job-related injury in 2009.  As a result of the 2009 incident, in which Lieutenant suffered a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder and pain in his right low back and right hip, he lost the ability to walk, and he never returned to work.

The Appellate Division noted that although Lieutenant’s previous injuries may have had resulted in some low level symptoms that he had learned to manage, there is no dispute that Lieutenant was not incapacitated prior to the 2009 incident. Although the System’s expert characterized the exacerbation of Lieutenant's underlying conditions after that point as temporary, he could not explain why Lieutenant's conceded disability had not resolved as of the date of the hearing, 3½ years after the accident.

Under these circumstances, said the court, the Comptroller's determination is not supported by substantial evidence and must be annulled.
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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Employment opportunities for attorneys – New York City



Employment opportunities for attorneys – New York City

The  City of New York, has a number of positions for attorneys available.  Job Vacancy Notices are posted on the Internet at  https://a127-jobs.nyc.gov/jobsearch.html?category=LEG




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/

Caution:

Subsequent court and administrative rulings, or changes to laws, rules and regulations may have modified or clarified or vacated or reversed the decisions summarized here. Accordingly, these summaries should be Shepardized® or otherwise checked to make certain that the most recent information is being considered by the reader.

THE MATERIAL ON THIS WEBSITE IS FOR INFORMATION ONLY. CHANGES IN LAWS, RULES, REGULATIONS AND NEW COURT AND ADMINISTRATIVE DECISIONS MAY AFFECT THE ACCURACY OF THE INFORMATION PROVIDED IN THIS LAWBLOG. THE MATERIAL PRESENTED IS NOT LEGAL ADVICE AND THE USE OF ANY MATERIAL POSTED ON THIS WEBSITE DOES NOT CREATE AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP.

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 in this blog is presented with the understanding that the publisher is not providing legal advice to the reader and in the event legal or other expert assistance is needed, the reader should seek such advice from a competent professional.

Items published in NYPPL may not be used for commercial purposes without prior written permission to copy and distribute such material. Send your request via e-mail to publications@nycap.rr.com

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