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Thursday, May 05, 2016

Imposing multiple disciplinary penalties on an employee found guilty of misconduct


Imposing multiple disciplinary penalties on an employee found guilty of misconduct
Civil Serv. Empls. Assn., Local 1000, AFSCME, AFL-CIO v New York State Unified Ct. Sys., 2016 NY Slip Op 03326, Appellate Division, Fourth Department

A hearing officer, after an administrative hearing conducted pursuant to provisions set out in a  collective bargaining agreement, found Robert Stanek guilty of certain disciplinary charges of misconduct. As a result Stanek was suspended for five days without pay. In addition, the appointing authority placed Stanek on probation for a period of six months and issued a letter of reprimand.

Stanek appealed the appointing authority’s decision but Supreme Court transferred the matter to the Appellate Division “pursuant to CPLR §7804(g)” on the ground that the petition raises a substantial evidence issue.

The Appellate Division said that the Supreme Court’s action was incorrect as the appointing authority’s determination “was not made as a result of a hearing held, and at which evidence was taken, pursuant to direction by law.” Rather, said the court, “the determination was the result of a hearing conducted pursuant to the terms of the collective bargaining agreement."*

Notwithstanding this procedural issue, the Appellate Division retained the matter and consider Stanek’s petition “in the interest of judicial economy.”

The court then explained that although Stanek’s petition raised a substantial evidence issue, its review of this administrative determination pursuant to CPLR §7803(3) is limited to whether the determination was "affected by an error of law or was arbitrary and capricious or an abuse of discretion." If a court finds that the determination is supported by a rational basis, it must sustain the determination even if the court concludes that it would have reached a different result than the one reached by the appointing authority.

Further, the Appellate Division said that “an administrative determination regarding discipline will be afforded heightened deference where a law enforcement agency such as [the court security arm of the Unified Court System] is concerned."**

Noting that Stanek did not contend that the determination is affected by an error of law, the Appellate Division concluded that, viewing the administrative record as a whole, the  determination of the appointing authority was not arbitrary and capricious, or an abuse of discretion. Further, opined the court, “There is evidence in the record that supports the determination, and that evidence was credited by the Hearing Officer and adopted by [appointing authority] in its determination.”

The court also rejected Stenak’s contention that the penalties imposed constitute an abuse of discretion, commenting that “It is well settled that ‘a penalty must be upheld unless it is so disproportionate to the offense as to be shocking to one's sense of fairness,' thus constituting an abuse of discretion as a matter of law,” citing Pell v Board of Educ. of Union Free Sch. Dist. No. 1, 34 NY2d 222. The court then concluded that the penalties imposed on Stanek, a court security officer, did not shock its sense of fairness considering the higher standard of fitness and character that pertains to law enforcement personnel, coupled with Stanek 's refusal to accept any responsibility for his conduct.

* A collective bargaining agreement may authorize the imposition of multiple disciplinary penalties. In contrast, in disciplinary actions taken pursuant to §75 of the Civil Service Law the courts have held that "the imposition of multiple penalties was improper" as Civil Service Law §75.3 provides for a choice of penalties, thus prohibiting the imposition of more than one of the discrete penalties set out in the statute [see Matteson v City of Oswego, 186 A.D.2d 1017]. However, imposing multiple penalties is possible where there are multiple offenses involved [See Wilson v Sartori, 70 AD2d 959].

** Stanek served as a court security officer.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2016/2016_03326.htm
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