A salary reduction upon reassignment to another position in the course of an agency reorganization is not a disciplinary action requiring notice and hearing
Matter of Soriano v Elia, 2017 NY Slip Op 08431, Appellate Division, Third Department
Supreme Court dismissed Charles R. Soriano's CPLR Article 78 petition seeking a review of the Commissioner of Education's dismissing Soriano's challenge to the reduction of his salary and benefits following his reassignment to another position.
Soriano served as the East Hampton Union Free School District's Assistant Superintendent. In 2012 the school board approved a reorganization plan for administrative staff within the school district that resulted in Sorian's being reassigned and appointed to Middle School Principal, a position within his tenure area. This change, however, entailed a reduction in his annual salary from approximately $205,000 to $180,000 in his new position. Although Soriano did not challenge the reassignment, he objected to any reduction in his salary or benefits as a consequence of this reassignment*.
Soriano appealed the school board's action to the Commissioner of Education contending that his annual compensation could not be unilaterally reduced by the school board except as "discipline" pursuant to the procedures set forth in Education Law §3020-a. The Commissioner dismissed the appeal, finding that Soriano "failed to demonstrate that the salary reduction constituted discipline under Education Law §3020-a or that the school board's actions were otherwise arbitrary and capricious.
The Appellate Division rejected Soriano's argument that, as a matter of law, the reduction in his salary resulting from his reassignment to Middle School Principal constituted "discipline" within the meaning of §3020-a and such discipline could not be imposed without notice and hearing.
Noting that "Discipline" is not defined in the Education Law, the court said it must "construe [this] word of ordinary import with [its] usual and commonly understood meaning" and the term is uniformly defined, both in the legal and ordinary sense, as "punishment."
The Appellate Division concluded that the school board's actions with regard to Soriano's compensation did not constitute discipline under the statute and the uncontradicted evidence submitted by the school board establishes that his reassignment was part of an overall reorganization of the school district's administrative staff and that his compensation was set after consideration of a number of factors, including the salaries being earned by other middle school principals in the surrounding area, salary reductions for other administrative positions within the school district, recent budgetary cuts and the overall financial constraints of the school district.
As there was no evidence to suggest that the reduction in Soriano's compensation was the product of any dissatisfaction with him or his job performance or was otherwise undertaken as a means of punishment, the Appellate Division held that the Commissioner properly concluded that Soriano was not entitled to the procedures set forth in §3020-a prior to the school board's setting his new compensation. Further, said the court, "Nor can we conclude that [Soriano] had a constitutionally protected property interest in the compensation he received while serving as Assistant Superintendent" while serving in his reassigned position.
The decision is posted on the Internet at:
* Although both the term reassignment and the term transfer are used to describe this change, the term "reassignment" is more accurate in this instance. A movement of an individual from one position to a second position subject to the jurisdiction of the same appointing authority is typically described as a "reassignment." In contrast, the movement of an employee from one position to a second position under the jurisdiction of a different appointing authority is characterized as a "transfer."
That said, in the opinion of your editor this personnel change was neither a transfer nor a reassignment. Rather it appears to involve the abolishment of the position of Assistant Superintendent by the school board, resulting in Soriano's being laid off and the placement of his name on a preferred list. Soriano was then reinstated to the position of Middle School Principal, an then existing vacancy or a newly established position within his tenure area. Accordingly, his compensation upon such reinstatement should be determined accordingly.