Friday, April 14, 2017

A disciplinary hearing officer may not consider disciplinary charges and specifications not preferred against an employee


A disciplinary hearing officer may not consider disciplinary charges and specifications not preferred against an employee
Nitti v County of Tioga, 2017 NY Slip Op 02868, Appellate Division, Third Department

The appointing authority brought disciplinary charges against an employee [Petitioner]  alleging that she, among other things, made three false statements to a subordinate employee and to the appointing authority about her friend's Medicaid application. 

After a Civil Service Law §75 hearing, a Hearing Officer found that the evidence supported the charges and specifications filed against Petitioner and recommended that she be terminated from employment.

A deputy of the appointing authority adopted the Hearing Officer's findings and recommendations and concluding that termination of Petitioner's employment was the appropriate penalty. Petitioner commenced [1] a proceeding pursuant to CPLR Article 78 contending that the Hearing Officer's findings were not supported by substantial evidence and [2] an action for declaratory judgment seeking, among other things, a court order annulling the deputy's determination.

Although Petitioner initially raised the issue of substantial evidence she subsequently abandoned that argument by failing to raise it in her brief presented to the Appellate Division. Instead Petitioner contended that the Hearing Officer violated her due process rights by finding her guilty of uncharged conduct, i.e., that she deliberately committed fraud by trying to obtain Medicaid benefits for her friend when she knew — and attempted to conceal — that the friend was not financially eligible for the benefits.

While the Appellate Division agreed that it is certainly true that a disciplinary hearing must be limited to the charges and specifications preferred against an employee, the court said that a review of the Hearing Officer's written recommendations revealed that, although he "note[d]" his belief that Petitioner's intent was to submit a fraudulent Medicaid application given her friend's "obvious lack of financial eligibility," the ultimate recommendations of guilt were limited solely to the evidence of Petitioner's charged misconduct.

Indeed, said the court, "the Hearing Officer made clear that his findings of guilt were based upon the evidence that Petitioner lied about who signed the Medicaid application and her 'false representations' to her subordinate and the Commissioner." Accordingly, the Appellate Division said that it could not agree with Petitioner that she was found guilty based upon conduct outside the scope set out in the notice of disciplinary charges served upon her.

Turning to the penalty imposed, termination from her employment, the court said that "in light of the responsibilities inherent in Petitioner's high-level position in which she supervised approximately 45 employees, '[w]e do not find that termination of Petitioner's employment is so disproportionate to the offense[s] as to be shocking to one's sense of fairness.'"

However, as Petitioner also had sought declaratory relief, the Appellate Division observed that such relief is not authorized "in a transferred proceeding pursuant to CPLR 7804(g) to the Appellate Division." There, ruled the Appellate Division, that part of the matter "must be remitted to Supreme Court for the entry of an appropriate judgment thereon."

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

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The Discipline Book - A 458 page guide to disciplinary actions involving public officers and employees. For more information click on http://booklocker.com/books/5215.html
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Layoff, Preferred Lists at http://nylayoff.blogspot.com/

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