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Thursday, March 24, 2016

Probationer challenging dismissal from the position claims to have suffered extreme emotional distress


Probationer challenging dismissal from the position claims to have suffered extreme emotional distress
Petkewicz v Dutchess County Dept. of Community and Family Servs., 2016 NY Slip Op 01854 [Action I]
Petkewicz v Dutchess County Dept. of Community and Family Servs., 2016 NY Slip Op 01819 [Action II]

Susan Petkewicz filed two lawsuits against the Dutchess County Department of Community and Family Services in Supreme Court. In the first, Action I, Petkewicz asked Supreme Court to annul the termination of her employment during her probationary period. In the second,  Action II,  Petkewicz sued to recover damages, alleging the intentional infliction of extreme emotional distress arising out of the termination of her employment as a probationary employee with the Dutchess County Department of Community and Family Services.

Supreme Court dismissed both Action I and Action II. Petkewicz appealed both decisions but the Appellate Division affirmed both Supreme Court rulings.

Action I

Addressing Petkewicz’s appeal concerning the merits of her termination from her probationary employment, the Appellate Division said that Petkewicz had received three written appraisals of her performance, the last two of which rated her performance as unsatisfactory and ultimately she was terminated prior to the expiration of the 12-month probationary period.

Noting that a probationary employee "may be terminated without a hearing and without a statement of reasons in the absence of a demonstration that the termination was in bad faith, for a constitutionally impermissible or an illegal purpose, or in violation of statutory or decisional law,"* the Appellate Division, citing Lane v City of New York, 92 AD3d 786,  said “Judicial review of the discharge of a probationary employee is limited to whether the determination was made in bad faith or for an improper or impermissible reason.” Further, said the court, the employee has "the burden of raising a material issue as to bad faith or illegal reasons, and conclusory allegations of misconduct or unlawfulness are insufficient to meet this burden."

The Appellate Division concluded that Petkewicz failed to meet her burden of raising a material issue as to bad faith or any other improper reason for her discharge, explaining that the record demonstrated her termination prior the satisfactory completion of her probationary period “had a rational basis, and that her allegations to the contrary were either conclusory or speculative in nature.”

Action II

In addressing Petkewicz’s appeal concerning the alleged “infliction of emotional distress the Appellate Division noted that in Klein v Metropolitan Child Services, Inc., 100 AD3d 708, that court held "The elements of intentional infliction of emotional distress are (1) extreme and outrageous conduct; (2) the intent to cause, or the disregard of a substantial likelihood of causing, severe emotional distress; (3) causation; and (4) severe emotional distress"

Petkewicz claimed that her supervisor, Diane Malone, “was overtly hostile, failed to provide her with meaningful mentoring and constructive feedback, and improperly prejudged her ability to perform her work duties, leading to her discharge.” Petkewicz also contended that the Department acquiesced in Malone's wrongful conduct, which was “extreme and outrageous,” and that such conduct was intended to and did cause her extreme emotional distress.

The Appellate Division, affirming the Supreme Court’s decision granting the Department’s motion to dismiss Petkewicz’s complaint, said that “Even accepting as true the allegations in the complaint regarding the defendants' conduct, and according the plaintiff the benefit of every possible favorable inference, the defendants' conduct was not so extreme or outrageous as to satisfy the first element of intentional infliction of emotional distress.”

Addressing another issue raised in Supreme Court by Petkewicz, the Appellate Division rejected Petkewicz’s argument that Supreme Court should have recuses itself, holding that “Supreme Court providently exercised its discretion in denying [Petkewicz’s] cross motion for recusal,” explaining that [1] Petkewicz failed to establish that there was a basis for recusal pursuant to Judiciary Law §14 and [2] failed to set forth any proof of bias or prejudice on the part of the Supreme Court Justice.

* Case law indicates that a probationary employee may be terminated at any time after the completion of his or her minimum period of probation and prior to his or her completion of the maximum period of probation unless otherwise provided by a collective bargaining agreement negotiated pursuant to the Taylor Law [Civil Service Law Article 14]. In contrast, if the probationer has not yet completed his or her minimum period probation, he or she is entitled to “notice and hearing” as a condition precedent to termination on the theory that the individual is entitled to a minimum period of service to demonstrate his or her ability to satisfactorily perform the duties of the position [see York v McGuire, 63 NY2d 760].

The decision in Action I is posted on the Internet at:

The decision in Action II is posted on the Internet at:

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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