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Friday, February 27, 2015

A public employee’s speech as a citizen rather than as an employee protected by the First Amendment


A public employee’s speech as a citizen rather than as an employee protected by the First Amendment
Matthews v City of New York, USCA, 2nd Circuit, Civ. 13-2915

New York City Police Officer Craig Matthews sued the City of New York alleging that the City had retaliated against him for speaking to his commanding officers about an arrest quota policy at his precinct.*

A United States District Court judge granted the City’s motion for summary judgment, holding that Matthews had spoken as a public employee and not as a citizen and thus his speech was not protected by the First Amendment.

Citing Cox v Warwick Valley Central School District, 654 F3d 267, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals said that the test it applied in cases in which a plaintiff asserts a First Amendment retaliation claim requires the plaintiff to establish that:

(1) his or her speech or conduct was protected by the First Amendment;

(2) the defendant took an adverse action against him or her; and

(3) there was a causal connection between this adverse action and the protected speech.

The Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the district court’s ruling, explaining that “because Matthews’s [sic] comments on precinct policy did not fall within his official duties and because he elected a channel with a civilian analogue to pursue his complaint, he spoke as a citizen.” The court then remanded the matter for further proceeding “consistent with this opinion.”

* Although not relevant to this appeal, which was limited to the narrow question of whether Matthews spoke as a citizen or as a public employee, the alleged acts of retaliation consisted of “punitive assignments, denial of overtime and leave, separation from his career-long partner, humiliating treatment by supervisors, and negative performance evaluations.”

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

Selected reports and information published by New York State's Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli on February 26, 2015


Selected reports and information published by New York State's Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli on February 26, 2015
Click on text highlighted in color  to access the full report

On February 26, 2015 New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli announced that the following audits have been issued: 


Department of Health (DOH): Medicaid Program: Medicaid Claims Processing Activity April 1, 2013 Through September 30, 2013 (2013-S-12)
DOH’s eMedNY computer system processes Medicaid claims submitted by providers for services rendered to Medicaid-eligible recipients, and it generates payments to reimburse the providers for their claims. During the six-month period ended Sept. 30, 2013, auditors identified over $5.6 million in inappropriate or questionable Medicaid payments. By the end of the audit fieldwork, auditors recovered about $2.3 million of the overpayments identified.

Department of Labor (DOL): Assessment and Collection of Selected Fees and Penalties (Follow-Up) (2014-F-19)
An initial report issued in May 2013, determined DOL had not collected about $3.8 million in fees and penalties for the Public Work Enforcement Fund, the boiler inspection program and the asbestos abatement program. Auditors also determined DOL does not have accurate records to show who is required to pay boiler inspection and asbestos-related project fees. In a follow-up, auditors found DOL has made substantial progress in addressing the issues identified in the initial report.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA): Headquarters and Capital Construction Travel and Entertainment Expenses (2013-S-47)
Auditors found MTA Headquarters and MTA Capital Construction have opportunities to strengthen controls over travel and entertainment, which could help reduce certain costs. For example, MTAHQ and MTACC could utilize federal travel guidelines (established by the U.S. General Services Administration and the U.S. Department of State) pertaining to maximum allowable lodging rates. Auditors found certain travel transactions lacked proper prior approvals, statements of purpose, or other required supporting travel documentation. Business office staff did not consistently ensure that all required approvals and supporting documents were included with employees’ travel expense reports.

New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (NYC HPD): Housing Preferences for Veterans (2014-F-14)
An initial report issued in June 2012 found that although the state Legislature had extended the right of preference for housing to many more veterans, few actually benefited due to inaction or disregard by housing companies and lax enforcement by NYC HPD. Auditors found two housing companies in Manhattan (Hamilton House and Clinton Towers) filled vacant apartments with non-veterans even though veterans had been identified on their waiting lists. In a follow-up report, auditors found NYC HPD has made progress in addressing the issues identified in the initial report and has implemented all three prior recommendations.

Office of Information Technology Services (OITS):  Security and Effectiveness of Division of Criminal Justice Services’ (DCJS) Core Systems (2014-S-24)
Auditors found that OITS does not have an established monitoring and oversight process for user access management of DCJS systems and is not operating in compliance with state cyber security policies. OITS does not have established policies and procedures for backup of key DCJS systems. Also, ITS does not have an active regional backup site, and DCJS systems are at risk for total data loss in the event of a regional disaster. Auditors also found OITS does not have an established monitoring and oversight process for software or operating systems and changes made to these systems.

Office of Information Technology Services (OITS): Security and Effectiveness of the Department of Labor’s Unemployment Insurance System (2014-S9)
Auditors found the Unemployment Insurance System data has not yet been classified as required by the current security policy, even though 80 of the 83 unemployment insurance applications in use by the Labor Department have been deemed mission critical. The security policy indicates that all agency information should be classified on an ongoing basis based on its confidentiality, integrity, and availability. Almost two years after the transition of services, OITS still does not have a service level agreement in place governing responsibilities and services provided to human services agencies. Auditors also found that although mainframe programming changes are logged, there is no indication of when these changes have been implemented, thereby reducing accountability.

Office of Information Technology Services (OITS): Security and Effectiveness of Department of Motor Vehicles’ (DMV) Licensing and Registration Systems (2013-S-58)
Auditors found OITS and DMV are not in compliance with the payment card industry data security standards that govern the systems that process credit card transactions. Since January 2012, neither agency has completed and submitted a required self-assessment questionnaire or third-party compliance report, which are necessary to ensure that all risks have been properly identified and mitigated. Non-compliance also exposes the state to other risks ranging from extensive fines or penalties to business disruption due to cancelled accounts and the inability to accept credit card payments. OITS does not have an established monitoring and oversight process for user access management of DMV systems and is not operating in compliance with state cybersecurity policies.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The U.S. Court of Appeals, Second Circuitʹs tests for sovereign immunity


The U.S. Court of Appeals Second Circuitʹs tests for sovereign immunity
Leitner v Westchester Community College, USCA, 2nd Circuit, 14-1042-cv

An adjunct professor employed by the Westchester Community College was terminated for allegedly making offensive comments in class. She sued, contending that the Community College violated her state and federal constitutional rights.

The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a federal district court’s denial of the Community College’s motion to dismiss the professor’s complaint on grounds that the college defendants were not entitled to sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment.

In a ruling that instructive in that it sets out the six factors considered, and the two-part test applied, by the Second Circuit when addressing a governmental entity’s claim of sovereign immunity, the court said that in this instance:

(1) a finding of sovereign immunity would not serve the twin aims of the Eleventh Amendment, as immunity would not further the states interest in preserving its treasury, nor would it protect the integrity of the state; and

(2) Westchester Community College is not an arm of the state entitled to sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
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Selected reports and information published by New York State's Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli on February 25, 2015


Selected reports and information published by New York State's Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli on February 25, 2015
Click on text highlighted in color  to access the full report

Town of Croghan – Financial Management (Lewis County)
The board adopted budgets that relied too heavily on fund balance as a financing source and appropriated more fund balance than it had available. The board has not developed a multiyear financial plan to address long-term priorities or a policy to determine the amount of fund balance to maintain.
Town of Dickinson – Fiscal Oversight (Franklin County)
The board did not effectively oversee the town’s financial operations. The supervisor did not provide the board with adequate monthly financial reports. In addition, the town’s procedures for auditing claims were not in compliance with town law.
Johnstown Public Library – Cash Receipts (Fulton County)
Auditors were unable to determine if all collections were recorded and deposited in a timely manner and intact. This was because library officials have not established formal policies or procedures for handling and recording cash receipts.
Town of Kiantone – Town Clerk (Chautauqua County)
The town clerk did not deposit all money collected. As of June 23, 2014, the clerk had a shortage totaling $3,147. In addition, the clerk did not record, deposit or remit money collected in an accurate and timely manner. Auditors also found the board did not provide adequate oversight of the clerk’s operations.
Town of Lewisboro – Financial Condition (Westchester County)
The town’s general, sewer and water funds all had a deficit fund balance at some point from 2009 through 2013. While officials were able to eliminate accumulated deficits in these funds by the end of 2013, they have not developed a multiyear financial plan to help monitor operations and guard against future operating deficits.
Village of Mill Neck – Financial Management (Nassau County)  The board has not established adequate policies and procedures or provided guidance on maintaining a reasonable level of fund balance. As a result, the village has accumulated excessive fund balance in its general fund that resulted, at least in part, from unrealistic budget estimates.
Saratoga Springs Public Library – Claims Processing (Saratoga County)
Internal controls over the claims audit process were not designed appropriately. For example, not all claims included signatures from the director or department heads to indicate that goods and services were actually received. In addition, the board assigned the responsibility to audit and approve all claims for payment to the president.
Town of Sweden – Justice Court (Monroe County)
The justices do not provide adequate oversight of court operations to ensure the accurate and complete collection, deposit, recording and reporting of court moneys in a timely manner. The justices have not adequately segregated the duties of the clerks and do not regularly review accounting records, bank statements, or monthly reconciliations and accountability analyses.
Town of Tyrone – Financial Management (Schuyler County)
Town officials have not developed multiyear financial plans, policies, or procedures to govern budgeting practices or the level of unexpended surplus funds to maintain. The board adopted budgets that were not based on sound and realistic estimates of revenues and expenditures. Poor budgeting, along with overspending in the highway fund, has caused cash flow problems, which required inter-fund transfers and advances from the general fund to pay bills over the last several years.
Town of West Union – Board Oversight and Cash Receipts and Disbursements (Steuben County)
The board has not provided adequate oversight to safeguard town assets. Specifically, the board did not adopt structurally balanced budgets. For fiscal years 2011 through 2013, the town had excessive fund balances in both the general fund and highway fund. In addition, the board did not audit the books and records of any of the town officers and employees that handled cash.
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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Refusing to answer work-related questions in the course of an investigation


Refusing to answer work-related questions in the course of an investigation
2015 NY Slip Op 01573, Appellate Division, First Department

The question of compelling a public officer or employee to testify or risk termination was considered by the Court of Appeals in Matt v LaRocca, 71 NY2d 154, cert denied 486 US 1007. In the Matt case the Court of Appeals held that when a public employee is threatened with termination if he or she refuses to testify under oath, the testimony given by the individual is "cloaked with use immunity," noting that "when a public employee is compelled to answer questions or face removal upon refusing to do so, the responses are cloaked with immunity automatically, and neither the compelled statements nor their fruits may thereafter be used against the employee in a subsequent criminal prosecution."

An attorney serving with the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) was terminated from his position. The administrative law judge, after a disciplinary hearing, had found the attorney guilty of misconduct and recommended the individual be terminated from employment. The appointing authority adopted the findings and recommendation of the administrative law judge and dismissed the attorney.

The attorney appealed but the Appellate Division unanimously affirmed the appointing authority’s determination. The penalty imposed, said the court, “does not shock our sense of fairness” given, among other things, the attorney’s refusal to appear for duly scheduled investigatory interviews even after receiving use immunity.

The court explained that substantial evidence supported the determination that attorney had engaged in misconduct by representing a tenant in litigation against the New York City Housing Authority while employed as an attorney for HPD, by “using [HPD’s] resources in the course of that representation, and by refusing to comply with directives to appear for investigatory interviews.

The Appellate Division said that although the attorney “is correct that a violation of New York City Charter §2604(b)(7) was not established given the absence of any evidence that he received any compensation for representing the tenant ... there was substantial evidence that [the attorney] violated other laws and orders in connection with that representation, including New York City Charter 2604(b)(2) and HPD Commissioner Order 2009-1(4)(a).”

The decision is posted on the Internet at:


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

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

New Deputy Chief Investment Officer named to the New York State Common Retirement Fund


New Deputy Chief Investment Officer named to the New York State Common Retirement Fund
Source: Office of the State Comptroller

On February 24, 2015 New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli announced the appointment of Anastasia Titarchuk to the position of Deputy Chief Investment Officer for the $181.7 billion New York State Common Retirement Fund. Ms. Titarchuk previously served the Fund as Director of Absolute Return Strategies.


Ms. Titarchuk has 17 years of experience across diverse sectors of the financial services industry, including traditional equity and fixed income markets, as well as derivatives and alternatives. Prior to joining the Fund in 2011, she served as Director of International Derivatives Sales at Bank of America and has held important roles with Lehman Brothers/Barclays Capital and JPMorgan. Titarchuk graduated Summa Cum Laude from Yale University with a B.S. in Applied Mathematics.


Letter sent to Acting State Commissioner of Education Berlin concerning teacher evaluation


Letter sent to Acting State Commissioner of Education Berlin concerning teacher evaluation
Source: Office of the Governor

On February 23, 2015 Director of State Operations Jim Malatras sent a letter to State Education Department Acting Commissioner Elizabeth R. Berlin regarding the teacher evaluation process.

The letter can be viewed on the Internet at:



Monday, February 23, 2015

Determining seniority of probationary employees in the event of a layoff


Determining seniority of probationary employees in the event of a layoff
Kenny v Rockland County Supt. of Highways, 2015 NY Slip Op 01453, Appellate Division, Second Department

Kevin J. Kenny was appointed to the position of Engineer II [Field] by the Rockland County Highway Department in April 2001. In August 2005, after serving a 26-week probationary period, he obtained tenure in that title as Engineer II [Field].

In December 2011 Kenny’s position was reclassified to an Engineer III position and in January 2012, Kenny filed an application for the Engineer III position and was nominated for a noncompetitive promotion* to the title of Engineer III. Kenny received a salary increase commensurate with his promotion to Engineer III and his appointment was described as "permanent, but serving probationary period."

In late June 2012, Kenny was told that a number of positions had been abolished by the County Legislature and that, although his position was not among those abolished, another employee with permanent status had greater rights to the Engineer III position than he had. On July 27, 2012, Kenny was terminated from his employment.

Contending that his appointment to the Engineer III position was a reclassification of his job title, not a promotion, thereby not requiring any new probationary period, Kenny challenged the Department’s determination. The Department, on the other hand, argued that Kenny’s appointment to the Engineer III position “constituted both a reclassification and a promotion” and that Kenny’s termination complied with applicable law.** After conducting a hearing, the Supreme Court granted Kenny’s petition, annulled the Department's determination, and reinstated the him to the position of Engineer II (Field) with back pay and benefits.

On appeal the Appellate Division reversed the Supreme Court’s ruling, on the law, and dismissed Kenny’s petition on the merits.

The Appellate Division explained that “Where, as here, an existing civil service position is reclassified, such reclassification is governed by Civil Service Law §22”***and, contrary to the Supreme Court's determination, the evidence at the hearing established that the procedural requirements for reclassifying the [Kenny’s] position from Engineer II (Field) to Engineer III were properly met.

Further, said the court, “contrary to [Kenny’s] contention, the reclassification also constituted a promotion, as it encompassed certain out-of-title duties which he had begun to perform after having received his engineering license in 2009 ... and resulted in a salary increase from a field position (Engineer II) to a management position (Engineer III), and a change in union representation to the Rockland Association of Management.”

The Appellate Division’s conclusion: the determination terminating Kenny’s employment had a rational basis, complied with due process requirements, and was not arbitrary and capricious or an abuse of discretion.

* See Civil Service Law §52.7.

** N.B. §80.1 of the Civil Service Law that provides “Notwithstanding the provisions of this subdivision, however, upon the abolition or reduction of positions in the competitive class, incumbents holding the same or similar positions who have not completed their probationary service shall be suspended or demoted, as the case may be, before any permanent incumbents, and among such probationary employees the order of suspension or demotion shall be determined as if such employees were permanent incumbents [emphasis supplied]..

*** §22 of the Civil Service Law, in pertinent part, provides: “Any such new position shall be created or any such existing position reclassified only with the title approved and certified by the commission.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

 __________

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Friday, February 20, 2015

Reforms to New York State’s ethics laws and rules proposed


Reforms to New York State’s ethics laws and rules proposed
Source: Office of the Governor

On Friday, February 20. 2015, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo outlined proposed reforms to New York State’s ethics laws and rules. The reforms are included in the 30 day amendments to the 2015-16 Executive Budge and address the following:

New Disclosure Requirements:

Public officials will be required to disclose all outside earned income they receive, from whom they receive it, the actual services performed to receive the income and whether there is any connection to the state government or the office that they hold and the work performed. Specifically:

All public officials must disclose the nature of each source of outside compensation in excess of $1,000.

No member or legislative employee may receive any kind of compensation in connection with a pending bill or resolution. Additionally, no legislator or legislative employee may refer individuals who are lobbying or advocating for a proposed or pending piece of legislation to firms or businesses where that legislator or legislative employee is also affiliated.

Lawyers, real estate agents and certain other professionals must provide a description of services for which they received compensation and the source of the compensation.

All public officials who personally provide services or work as a member or employee of a business or firm, and receives compensation in excess of $5,000 from a client/customer, must disclose information on that client/customer, the services rendered and whether the services were related to pending legislation governmental action.

Requirements to disclose outside income will apply to all legislative discretionary capital funding.

This proposal will also enhance penalties for failure to comply with the law.

Under current law, individuals cannot be prosecuted for filing false instruments under the Penal Law. Under the reforms advanced by the Governor, the officials can be prosecuted for not just filing a false financial disclosure statement but other crimes, as well. Further, the proposal would bar anyone convicted of a misdemeanor for failing to disclosure information under the financial disclosure law from holding public office for five years, or possibly up to 10 years if a misdemeanor plea was a plead down.

This proposal would also amend the Public Officers Law to expressly bar legislators from representing entities in legislative matters or referring such legislative matters to their firms. It would also amend the Lobbying Law to cover lobbying of municipalities that have a population of 5,000 or more – current law is set at municipalities with populations of 50,000 or more.

Pension Forfeiture

Public officials who are convicted of public corruption should not have taxpayers pay for their retirement. This proposal will amend the New York State Constitution (and related pension forfeiture law enacted in 2011) to apply New York’s pension forfeiture law to public officials who entered the retirement system before enactment of the pension forfeiture law in 2011.

Per Diem Reform

This proposal will end the practice of misusing per diems as backdoor salary supplements. Specifically, legislators and statewide elected officials would receive reimbursement only of reasonable and necessary travel expenses, for which receipts must be submitted, that are actually incurred while in the performance of their duties at the same rate as otherwise allowed state employees.

Further, the proposal would operationalize these reforms. The Office of State Comptroller will be prohibited from reimbursing expenses for a member of the legislature or statewide elected official until expanded disclosure provisions are met. Additionally, new caps are placed on the amount of reimbursement authorized under the law at the same level as the caps that currently apply to all other state employees. This proposal also repeals current law that gives great discretion to legislative leaders to broaden and increase per diems.

Campaign Finance Disclosure

The proposal will further expand the requirement for disclosing independent expenditures to include independent expenditures on communications made within 60 days before a general, or special election, and 30 days before a primary election to that reference a clearly identified client. This proposal also turns over enforcement of independent expenditures rules to new chief enforcement counsel.
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Professionals employed by educational institutions entitled to employment insurance benefits for periods between two successive academic years absent a reasonable assurance of continued employment


Professionals employed by educational institutions entitled to employment insurance benefits for periods between two successive academic years absent a reasonable assurance of continued employment
2015 NY Slip Op 00926, Appellate Division, Third Department

Labor Law §590(10) precludes professionals employed by educational institutions from receiving employment insurance benefits for periods between two successive academic years when the employer has provided them with a reasonable assurance of continued employment. This decision by the Appellate Division, Third Department, explores applying the requirement of giving an educator “a reasonable assurance of continued employment.”

An individual was employed as an adjunct lecturer [AL] by the Borough of Manhattan Community College [MCC] since 1991. During the 2010-2011 academic year, AL worked a total of 150 hours, 105 hours in the 2010 fall semester and 45 hours in the 2011 spring semester. At the close of the 2010-2011 academic year, he received a letter from MCC offering to reappoint him to the same position for the 2011 fall and 2012 spring semesters, "subject to sufficiency of enrollment, financial availability and curriculum need."

Shortly after receiving this letter, MCC informed AL that he would be assigned to work 45 hours during the 2011 fall semester, but did not specify his assignment for the 2012 spring semester. AL applied for unemployment insurance benefits between the two academic years and was initially deemed ineligible on the basis that he had received a reasonable assurance of continued employment from the employer for the next academic year.

Following a hearing, an Administrative Law Judge overruled this determination and found that AL was eligible to receive benefits because MCC did not provide him with a reasonable assurance of continued employment within the meaning of Labor Law §590(10). The Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board affirmed the administrative law judge's ruling, and adhered to its decision upon reconsideration. MCC appealed the Board’s ruling.

The Appellate Division affirmed the Board’s ruling, explaining that although Labor Law §590(10) precludes professionals employed by educational institutions from receiving unemployment insurance benefits for periods between two successive academic years when the employer has provided them with a reasonable assurance of continued employment, "A reasonable assurance ... has been interpreted as a representation by the employer that substantially the same economic terms and conditions will continue to apply to the extent that the claimant will receive at least 90% of the earnings received during the first academic period."

Whether a claimant received a reasonable assurance of employment is a question of fact for the Board to resolve and its findings in this regard will be upheld if supported by substantial evidence

AL, said the court, had worked 150 hours during the 2010-2011 academic year, but was only offered 45 hours during the 2011-2012 academic year, limited to the 2011 fall semester. Further, MCC did not specify any hours for the 2012 spring semester either in its reappointment letter or notice advising AL of his assignment, and AL was offered significantly fewer hours during the 2011 fall semester than he had worked during the 2010 fall semester.

Given that the economic terms of the offer of reappointment during the 2011-2012 academic year were substantially less favorable than AL’s earnings during the 2010-2011 academic year, the Appellate Division held that substantial evidence supported the Board's finding that MCC did not provide AL with a reasonable assurance of continued employment under Labor Law §590(10).

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
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Thursday, February 19, 2015

Probationary employee should be given timely notice of employer’s concerns that the employee’s performance placed continued employment at risk


Probationary employee should be given timely notice of employer’s concerns that the employee’s performance placed continued employment at risk

2015 NY Slip Op 01384, Appellate Division, First Department



A Supreme Court judge denied the petition filed by a guidance counselor [Counselor] seeking to annul her unsatisfactory annual performance rating for the 2011-2012 academic year and her termination of her probationary appointment as a guidance counselor.



The Appellate Division unanimously reversed the Supreme Court’s decision “on the law” and granted Counselor’s petition to annul the unsatisfactory rating, annulled the discontinuance of her probationary employment and remanded the matter to the school district for further proceedings.



The court explained that the record before it demonstrated deficiencies in the performance review process resulting in Counselor’s unsatisfactory rating (U-rating) for the school year 2011-2012 that were not merely technical, but undermined the integrity and fairness of the process.



The Appellate Division said that Counselor had received a satisfactory rating for the 2010-2011 school year. She did not receive the disciplinary letters underlying the U-rating for the 2011-2012 school year until June 20, 2012, at the end of the school year. Further, said the court, Counselor’s receipt of the disciplinary letters was contemporaneous with the issuance of the U-rating and the recommendation of discontinuance of her employment, which the court characterized as providing Counselor with “scant notice of school district’s concerns about [Counselor’s] performance and [thus she] had little opportunity to improve her performance.”



The decision also noted the court’s concern that “Even assuming [Counselor] was aware, via certain email and other correspondence, of the facts and circumstances underlying the respective disciplinary letters” given to her in June 2012,”there is no evidence to suggest that these communications, made in the ordinary course of [Counselor’s] employment as a probationary guidance counselor, would have alerted her that her year-end rating or her employment was at risk. “



The Appellate Division also noted that, considering the range of dates of the incidents referred to in the disciplinary letters, no explanation has been given for the school district’s failure to bring their concerns to Counselor’s attention before June 2012.



The decision is posted on the Internet at:


Wednesday, February 18, 2015


Determining tenure areas for teachers and tenure areas for education administrators distinguished
Appeal of Pronti, Decisions of the Commissioner of Education, Decision No. 16,698

Due to financial concerns, the school district sought to consolidate and reorganize administrative duties, resulting in the abolishment of two administrative positions, including one in the tenure area of Director of Special Education, and the approval of the creation of an administrative position in the tenure area of CSE and CPSE Coordinator/K-12 Administrator [Coordinator]. 

The least senior in the tenure area of Director of Special Education, Michelle Pronti, was notified that her employment would be terminated and that her name would be placed on a preferred eligibility list with the right to recall in her tenure area of Director of Special Education.

Contending that the duties of her former position as a Director of Special Education were substantially similar to the duties of the newly-created Coordinator position and therefore she was entitled to be appointed to the newly created t position under her “Preferred Eligibility List [PEL] rights,” Pronti appealed the school board's decision to the Commissioner of Education. 

In support of her claim, Pronti said that that the two positions are in the same broad administrative tenure area and that the school district has not provided evidence that it has established narrow tenure areas.

The school district argued that he newly-created Coordinator position was in the tenure area of CSE and CPSE Coordinator/K-12 Administrator and that Pronti has not served any time in the narrow tenure area of the newly-created Coordinator position and thus “is not entitled to the newly-created position as she does not have tenure within that area.” 

In addition, the school district asserted that “even if the positions were in the same tenure area, [Pronti’s] former Director position and the newly-created position are not similar within the meaning of Education Law §2510 and, therefore, [Pronti] is not entitled to appointment to the newly-created position.”

The Commissioner of Education dismissed Pronti’s appeal noting that “[o]n the record before me, [Pronti] has failed to meet her burden of establishing that the duties of the newly-created position are similar to those of the Director of Special Education, for purposes of Education Law §2510(3)(a). Although there are some common management and supervisory skills required in both positions, the record ... reveals that the newly-created position involves substantially broader responsibilities, skills and experience than the Director of Special Education position....”

The Commissioner explained that:

1. It has been consistently held that, in order to establish entitlement to appointment to a new position, a petitioner must first establish that the two positions are in the same tenure area; a petitioner would therefore have no rights under Education Law §2510(3) to be appointed to the newly-created position if it is in a different tenure area that his or her former position;

2. Unlike tenure areas for educators, there are no clearly defined guidelines or parameters for administrative tenure areas; and

3. A board of education may establish one district-wide administrative tenure area or multiple defined administrative tenure areas.

Accordingly, said the Commissioner, the party seeking the benefit of a specific tenure area bears the burden of proving its existence and must demonstrate that the board of education has, in fact, established the narrow, specific, tenure area “consciously” and “by design” (id.) and that the employee has been sufficiently alerted to that fact.

Further, Education Law §2510(3)(a), governing the rights of a terminated employee to re-employment, provides, in pertinent part: “If an office or position is abolished or if it is consolidated with another position without creating a new position, the person filling such position at the time of its abolishment or consolidation shall be placed upon a preferred eligible list of candidates for appointment to a vacancy that then exists or that may thereafter occur in an office or position similar to the one which such person filled without reduction in salary or increment, provided the record of such person has been one of faithful, competent service in the office or position he has filled.”

Thus, an individual whose position is abolished has reinstatement rights only if the new position is “similar” to the former position. The test to whether the two positions are “similar” is whether more than 50 percent of the duties of the new position are those which were performed by the petitioner in his or her former position and the burden of proving that a majority of the duties of the newly-created position are similar to those of his or her former position is on the petitioner.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:


Saturday, February 14, 2015

Selected reports and information published by New York State's Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli during the week ending February 15, 2015


Selected reports and information published by New York State's Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli during the week ending February 15, 2015 
Source: Office of the State Comptroller 

DiNapoli: Fewer School Districts Overriding Tax Cap The number of school districts overriding New York’s property tax cap declined by more than half over the past three fiscal years, dropping from 44 school districts in 2012-13 to only 19 in 2014-15, according to a report issued Wednesday by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. The report also found low- and average-need districts were twice as likely to override the tax cap compared to high-need districts. 

NYS Common Retirement Fund Announces Third Quarter Results The New York State Common Retirement Fund’s (Fund) overall return in the third quarter of the state fiscal year 2015 was 1.91 percent for the three-month period ending December 31, 2014, bringing the Fund’s estimated value to $181.7 billion, according to New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.

Comptroller DiNapoli and A.G. Schneiderman Announce Sentencing in $200,000 Fraud on Long Island Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli and Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman Friday announced the sentencing of Charles Angelillo, 41, of Eastport, for his role in a conspiracy to defraud the state of over $200,000 by submitting false invoices over a two year period for HVAC equipment, supplies, and labor. The defendant, who pled guilty last October, must release the state of all obligations for the bogus invoices, refund $10,000 he admits stealing, and is banned from bidding on or receiving public contracts with the state, any municipality, public benefit corporations, or other public body for five years. 

DiNapoli Announces $1.2 Billion in New Commitments to State Pension Fund’s Emerging Manager Program New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli announced Friday that the New York State Common Retirement Fund (Fund) has committed an additional $1.2 billion to its emerging manager program, increasing the total commitment to more than $5 billion. The program is designed to help diversify the Fund’s investments and expand its pool of investors. DiNapoli made the announcement at the Fund’s eighth annual Emerging Manager Conference. 

DiNapoli Honored with National Leadership Award New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli received the William R. Snodgrass Distinguished Leadership Award from the Association of Government Accountants at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, Feb. 11. The award is given annually to state government professionals who exemplify and promote excellence in government financial management. 

Comptroller DiNapoli and A.G. Schneiderman Announce Sentencing of Former Met Council Insurance Brokers State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli and Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman Friday announced that Solomon Ross and William Lieber, former insurance brokers for the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty (“Met Council”), each have been sentenced to five years of probation and will each pay $1.5 million in restitution to Met Council. As part of their sentence, they will also surrender their broker’s licenses to the New York State Department of Financial Services.

Friday, February 13, 2015

A school district active employee and the district’s retired employee must be provided with identical health insurance benefits


A school district active employee and the district’s retired employee must be provided with identical health insurance benefits 
Anderson v Niagara Falls City School Dist., 2015 NY Slip Op 01098, Appellate Division, Fourth Department 

After the Niagara Falls City School District [Niagara Falls] transferred its retirees from a Blue Cross/Blue Shield Traditional Plan [Traditional Plan] to a Blue Cross/Blue Shield Forever Blue Medicare Plan [Forever Blue Plan] the retirees [Anderson] sued contending that the transfer resulted in a reduction in their health insurance benefits while Niagara Falls failed to effectuate a similar reduction in benefits for its active employees.

The relevant collective bargaining agreement [CBA] did not address what kind of health insurance plan would be available to retirees during retirement but prior to July 1, 2011, the Traditional Plan was available to Anderson. After June 30, 2011 Niagara Falls discontinued offering the Traditional Plan to retirees, including Anderson, and transferred its then retired former employees, Anderson included, to the Forever Blue Plan.

Anderson, a pre-July 1, 2011 retiree, alleged that Niagara Falls' actions were arbitrary, capricious, and unlawful, and in violation of Chapter 504 of the Laws of 2009, the so-called moratorium statute,, and sought to compel the School District to make the Traditional Plan available to Niagara Falls retirees once again.

Niagara Falls, on the other hand, contended that the coverage provided under the Forever Blue Plan was the "exact same coverage" as the Traditional Plan, with the exception of "one difference: there was “a minor increase in the co-pays under the new current plan." In order to compensate the retirees for that increase, Niagara Falls would deposit $600 per year into a medical reimbursement account for each retiree, including Anderson.

Supreme Court granted Anderson’s petition in its entirety and the Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s ruling.

The Appellate Division explained that although Niagara Falls argued that the Anderson did not have a viable cause of action under the moratorium statute, relying on Kolbe v Tibbets, 22 NY3d 340, the Appellate Division rejected its contention indicating that the moratorium statute relied on by the school district “sets a minimum baseline or ‘floor’ for retiree health benefits, and that ‘floor’ is measured by the health insurance benefits received by the school district’s active employees.”

In other words, said the court, “the moratorium statute does not permit an employer to whom the statute applies to provide [its] retirees with lesser health insurance benefits than [its] active employees.”

Anderson alleged that health insurance benefits available to retirees have been diminished below the "floor" of the corresponding benefits for Niagara Falls’ active employees. This, said the court, is the “precise trigger” that permits Anderson to assert a cause of action under the moratorium statute.

Further, said the court, the issue in Kolbe was whether the employer could reduce or eliminate retiree benefits regardless of the language in the governing CBAs, so long as they made the same modification to active employees, and resolving that issue involved an interpretation of the contractual provisions of the governing CBAs. In rejecting the employer’s position in Kolbe, the Court of Appeals held that the moratorium statute was "not meant to eviscerate contractual obligations."

Here, however, Anderson did not allege that Niagara Falls had violated a provision of the CBA and, thus, no issue of contract interpretation is presented here. In Kolbe the petitioners were “attempting to vindicate the negotiated rights bestowed on them in the governing CBAs” while in this action Anderson is attempting to vindicate the rights bestowed on retirees under the moratorium statute.

As to the merits of the Anderson case, the Appellate Division said that Supreme Court “properly determined that [Niagara City School District’s] actions were arbitrary, capricious, and unlawful, and in violation of the moratorium statute, because there was a substantial reduction in health insurance benefits for the retirees or their dependents without a corresponding reduction of benefits for active employees.”

The decision is posted on the Internet at:



Wednesday, February 11, 2015

2015-2016 Proposed Executive Budget Highlights


2015-2016 Proposed Executive Budget Highlights
Source: Office of the State Comptroller

In a report released February 10, 2015 by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, the Comptoller reports that proposed 2015-2016 Executive Budget holds down spending and boosts state reserves, according to. At the same time, the proposed budget increases potential out-year gaps and gives the Executive new latitude to move and spend money outside the formal appropriation process, including billions of dollars in financial settlements.

The General Fund is projected to end state fiscal year (SFY) 2014-15 with a closing balance of $7.8 billion. Excluding settlement revenues, the General Fund is expected to end the year with a balance of nearly $2.4 billion, $313 million higher than anticipated when the budget was enacted in March 2014.

The Division of the Budget (DOB) projects spending from State Operating Funds in the next fiscal year to total just under $94 billion, an increase of 1.7 percent, or $1.6 billion, from SFY 2014-15. Based on these projections, and after adjusting for prepayments and other proposed changes, DiNapoli estimates that spending would increase under the Executive’s proposal by 3.1 percent.

DOB projects budget surpluses in future years, resulting in part from unspecified actions needed to limit annual growth in State Operating Funds expenditures to 2 percent. Based on projections of revenues and disbursements by DOB, and excluding the unspecified savings in State Operating Funds spending, the Comptroller estimates annual out-year gaps averaging nearly $3.3 billion in SFY 2016-17 through SFY 2018-19. These potential gaps are more than one-third larger than estimates based on the SFY 2014-15 Executive Budget.

The Governor’s spending plan raises the allowable amount that can be deposited into the Rainy Day Reserve Fund and allocates $315 million for the Rainy Day Reserve Fund and the Tax Stabilization Reserve Fund. More robust reserves would improve the state’s ability to respond to fiscal emergencies, as DiNapoli has advocated. However, the budget also allows the state to more easily withdraw reserve money and commit it to other purposes.

DOB forecasts that state tax collections will strengthen in SFY 2015-16, with growth of $3.6 billion, or 5.1 percent, compared to expected growth of 1.7 percent in the current fiscal year. The projected increase results primarily from stronger economic growth and an expected rebound in PIT receipts.

The Executive Budget creates a new Capital Projects Fund which could receive a portion of the nearly $5.7 billion in financial settlements. The Executive has identified various projects to be supported by the fund, including transportation infrastructure, a $500 million broadband initiative and funding for farms and agriculture. However, the proposed budget legislation related to the Dedicated Infrastructure Investment Fund (DIIF) would allow the money to be used for virtually any purpose, including operational costs.

DiNapoli’s report notes that the Executive Budget reduces transparency, accountability and oversight in some areas. For example, the proposal lacks individual public school district funding estimates and includes measures to bypass existing statutory provisions that promote integrity in state procurement, including the elimination of competitive bidding, public notice requirements and State Comptroller review in certain instances. Other provisions would blur lines of functions and responsibilities of state agencies and public authorities, expand DOB’s authority to move funds among state agencies and authorities, and authorize expanded access to New Yorkers’ personal information among state agencies.  

The Executive Budget includes a proposal to authorize the use of backdoor borrowing by state public authorities for all or part of the purposes of the Smart Schools Bond Act approved by voters in November 2014. This proposal would allow up to $2 billion in debt to be issued without all of the controls for issuance, structure and retirement that apply to voter-approved G.O. bonds and could result in higher costs to taxpayers.

The report also finds the Executive Budget:

   Proposes to increase education aid by $1.1 billion, or 4.8 percent, but conditions any increase on legislative enactment of certain statutory changes involving teacher evaluations, governance of struggling schools and other matters;

   Projects overall Medicaid spending in New York, including federal funding and local government expenditures, will total more than $62 billion in SFY 2015-16, an increase of 5.6 percent;

    Increases total spending for state economic development programs by nearly 45 percent, primarily reflecting a $585 million increase in capital spending, to just over $2 billion;

   Increases new debt issuances, outstanding debt and annual debt service payments over the five-year Capital Plan period. Available debt capacity under the State’s statutory cap is now projected to reach a low point of $604 million at the end of SFY 2018-19;

   Proposes to reinstate and expand authorization of design-build and other alternative methods of procurement, after the expiration of the Infrastructure Investment Act in December 2014; and

   Proposes a public campaign finance system for elections to statewide offices and the Legislature, starting in 2018.  Funding would be authorized from a proposed new Campaign Finance Fund check-off program and the transfer of Abandoned Property revenue.


As chief fiscal officer for the state, the State Comptroller annually examines the Executive Budget proposal and the enacted budget. DiNapoli also issues monthly reports on the state’s cash position. 

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Probationary employee terminated notwithstanding the dismissal of criminal charges


Probationary employee terminated notwithstanding the dismissal of criminal charges 
2015 NY Slip Op 00813, Appellate Division, First Department
Martin v Hearst Corporation, USCA, Second Circuit, Docket #13-3315 

Supreme Court denied the petition filed by an individual, a probationary employee, seeking to have the court annul employer's dismissing her from employment.

The court, noting that criminal charges filed against individual were dismissed, held that the termination of a probationary employee based on an arrest for criminal charges that were subsequently dismissed does not constitute bad faith

The Appellate Division unanimously affirmed the Supreme Court’s ruling, explaining that the individual had failed to demonstrate that employer's termination of her probationary employment was in bad faith.

The Appellate Division also commented that “the record reflects that [individual’s] job performance was considered sub-standard.”

In another action, Martin v Hearst Corporation, et al, USCA, Second Circuit, Docket #13-3315, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, affirmed a federal district court judge’s dismissal of an action brought by an individual under color of Connecticut’s “Erasure Statute” in which she had alleged libel and other publication related claims based the publication of certain reports concerning her arrest .

Although the media reports were factually true when published, she contended that they became false and defamatory when the criminal charges brought against her were “nolled.*

Under Connecticut’s Criminal Records Erasure Statute, [Conn. Gen. Stat. 54-142a], when charges against an individual are nolled or dismissed, that individual’s criminal records are erased and he or she is deemed to have never been arrested.

The Circuit Court of Appeals concluded “that the Erasure Statute does not render tortious historically accurate news accounts of an arrest” and affirmed the federal district court’s granting the media defendants' motion for summary judgment. 

* Nolle Prosequi -- a unilateral act by a prosecutor which ends the pending proceedings without an acquittal and without placing the defendant in jeopardy. 
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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/

A Reasonable Penalty Under The Circumstances at http://nypplarchives.blogspot.com

The Disability Benefits E-book: at http://section207.blogspot.com/

Layoff, Preferred Lists at http://nylayoff.blogspot.com/

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