July 11, 2018

Layoff of seasonal employees constituted a termination of employment for the purposes of Public Authorities Law §2629(2)(a)


Layoff of seasonal employees constituted a termination of employment for the purposes of Public Authorities Law §2629(2)(a)
Civil Serv. Empls. Assn., Inc., Local 1000, AFSCME, AFL-CIO v Olympic Regional Dev. Auth., 2018 NY Slip Op 04998, Appellate Division, Third Department

The Civil Service Employees Association [CSEA] challenged the Olympic Regional Development Authority [ORDA] determination that certain its employees who had been laid off were no longer members of their previous collective bargaining unit upon their reinstatement. Supreme Court granted CSEA's application, in a combined proceeding pursuant to CPLR Article 78 and action for declaratory judgment, annulling ORDA's action. Supreme Court found that CSEA was "entitled to a declaration that the layoff of seasonal employees [did] not constitute a termination or cessation of their employment resulting in a vacancy for purposes of Public Authorities Law §2629(2)(a)" and granted CSEA's petition, annulling ORDA's determination. ORDA appealed the Supreme Court's decision.

In 2012, the management of the Belleayre Mountain Ski Center was transferred from the Department of Environmental Conservation [DEC] to ORDA, a public benefit corporation.* Pursuant to Public Authorities Law §2629(2)(a), employees then working at Belleayre Mountain, who had been DEC employees and members of CSEA's Operating Services Collective Bargaining Unit [OSU], became employees of ORDA.

In March 2016, ORDA laid off three seasonal employees at Belleayre Mountain who were in OSU. Upon rehiring these employees some two months later to the same positions each had previously held, ORDA determined that each would be placed in ORDA's collective bargaining unit rather than OSU. This resulted in the three seasonal employees experiencing a "significant adverse changes to their benefits" and CSEA brought this action against ORDA contending that ORDA's action was arbitrary and capricious and in violation of §2629(2)(a).

The Appellate Division noted that, as pertinent here, Public Authorities Law §2629(2)(a):

1. Provides that employees affected by the transfer "shall retain their respective civil service classifications, status, salary, wages and negotiating unit, if any...."; and

2.  §2629(2)(a) further provided that "once the employment of any transferred employee ... is terminated or otherwise ceases, by any means, any individual hired to fill such vacancy shall not be placed in the same negotiating unit of the former incumbent but rather shall be placed in [ORDA's] negotiating unit."

ORDA contend that §2629(2)(a) the unambiguous results in the employment of a seasonal employee "terminate[s] or otherwise ceases" when he or she is laid off. Accordingly, ORDA argued, "such an employee may not return to his or her former negotiating unit in the event that he or she is subsequently rehired."

Noting that ORDA's determination was made without a hearing, the Appellate Division said that its review is limited to determining whether ORDA decision was "'arbitrary and capricious, irrational, affected by an error of law or an abuse of discretion." Further, said the court, "We accord no deference to ORDA's statutory interpretation," as the questions raised on appeal depend only upon the "accurate apprehension of legislative intent."

This appeal, said the Appellate Division turns on the meaning of the terms "terminated" and "ceases" within the context of §2629(2)(a) and as neither word is defined in the Public Authorities Law and both are words "of ordinary import," the court said it would interpret them in a manner consistent with "their usual and commonly understood meaning." In the words of the Appellate Division, "terminate" is defined as "to bring to an end," "to discontinue the employment of" or "to form the conclusion of," citing the "Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary."

Rejecting CSEA's contention that a layoff is inconsistent with these definitions and merely constitutes a temporary interruption in a career, the Appellate Division explained that "in light of the express statutory provision that an employee whose employment 'is terminated or otherwise ceases, by any mean'" may not return to his or her prior collective bargaining unit upon subsequent rehire" and interpreting §2629(2)(a) as urged by CSEA "would render the phrase 'by any means' superfluous."

The court also rejected CSEA claim that §2629(2)(a) applies only to new employees, opining that the statute states that it is applicable to "any individual" and makes no distinction between employees who are new hires and employees who may have previously worked at Belleayre Mountain.

On one last point, CSEA's contention that the court should adopt its interpretation of §2629 on the basis that it is a remedial statute, the Appellate Division said that "[E]ven a remedial statute must be given a meaning consistent with the words chosen by the Legislature," and courts must "give effect not only to the remedy, but also to the words that delimit the remedy," commenting that CSEA's "interpretation of §2629 could result in the unintended adverse effect of discouraging the rehiring of seasonal employees after layoffs."

Finding that the plain language of §2629(2)(a) barred ORDA from permitting seasonal employees who were laid off and subsequently rehired to remain in OSU, the Appellate Division ruled that CSEA's "petition/complaint should have been dismissed."

* §45 of the Civil Service Law addresses the status of the employees of a private institution or enterprise upon its acquisition by governmental entity for the purpose of operating the private institution or enterprise as a public function.


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