August 21, 2019

Suspending an employee without pay while disciplinary charges are pending

  
§75 of the New York State Civil Service Law provides that an employee who has been served with disciplinary charges may be suspended without pay for up to 30 days.* If the disciplinary proceeding has not been completed by that date, the individual must be restored to the payroll.

Under certain circumstances, however, the court may decide that the appointing authority is not required to restore the suspended individual to the payroll even though the statutory 30-day period has expired. The decisions in these two cases provide examples of such situations.

First action:

The Plaintiff [Employee] in Decision 1 was served with charges of misconduct. During the §75 hearing that followed, the parties met in an effort to settle the matter.

According to the Respondent [Appointing Authority], an "oral settlement" was reached whereby Employee agreed to her resign from her position. Employee, on the other hand, said that no settlement had been reached. The fact that there was no document formalizing any settlement did not help the situation.

When the Appointing Authority failed to restore Employee to the payroll after she had been suspended without pay for 30 days, Employee sued. A New York State Supreme Court granted Employee's petition for a preliminary injunction enjoining the Appointing Authority from continuing "her suspension without pay" and the Appointing Authority appealed.

Was Employee entitled to the injunction? The Appellate Division thought not, commenting that a preliminary injunction should be granted only:

a. when the moving party has shown a likelihood of ultimate success on the merits;

b.  an irreparable and imminent injury if the injunction is withheld; and

c. that a balancing of the equities favors the moving party.

Deciding that Employee had failed to satisfy any of these elements, the Appellate Division reversed the lower Court's order granting injunctive relief.

What was the reasoning of the Appellate Division? The Court said that "if a fact finder ultimately concludes that [Employee] did resign as part of a disciplinary settlement agreement, she would not be entitled to back pay. As resolution of the question of the claimed settlement may be a determinative factor, since the issue is heavily contested, Employee has not shown a clear likelihood of success on her underlying claim.

Further, the Court decided that Employee did not demonstrate "irreparable injury." As she was only seeking monetary damages, the Court said were she to prevail on the merits her damages can be easily computed and she will be fully compensated for them.

As to the issue of the "balance of equities," the Appellate Division again noted that if Employee wins, she could, and would, be fully compensated for her loss by the Appointing Authority. If, on the other hand, should the Appointing Authority prevail after being forced to pay Employee's salary to her pending a final determination, the Court said that it is much less certain that the Appointing Authority will be able to recoup those payments.

The lesson here is that the terms and conditions of any settlement arrived at in the course of a disciplinary proceeding should be immediately reduced to writing and signed by the parties before they leave the proceeding.


Second action:

The ruling in Decision 2 concerned a related issue - restoration of an individual to the payroll if a court remands a §75 disciplinary determination for reconsideration by the appointing authority.

In this action the employee [Plaintiff] was terminated from her position after being found guilty of §75 disciplinary charges. She appealed and the Appellate Division returned the case to the Employer [Respondent] "for development of appropriate findings supporting the determination to terminate Plaintiff."

In a subsequent appeal Plaintiff contended that she was entitled to reinstatement and back salary retroactive to the date of her termination because the Appellate Division had remanded the appointing authority's original disciplinary determination "for the development of appropriate findings ...." In effect, Plaintiff, in effect, contended that this was the equivalent of a vacating of the determination.

The Appellate Division rejected Plaintiff's theory, indicating that neither the disciplinary determination nor the penalty imposed by the Respondent was  annulled as a result of its remanding the original administrative determination for further action by the appointing authority. Rather, said the Court, it had simply "withheld [its] decision" pending its receipt of the "requisite finding" by the Respondent.

Apparently satisfied that the "requisite finding" of the appointing authority supported its §75 determination and the penalty imposed, the Appellate Division sustained Plaintiff's termination.

In contrast, had the Court decided that the determination was not supported by the record or that the penalty imposed did not satisfy the Pell standard, i.e., dismissal was “so disproportionate to the offense, in the light of all the circumstances, as to be shocking to one’s sense of fairness,” [see Pell v Board of Education, 34 NY2d 222],  it probably would have directed Plaintiff's reinstatement with all, or a portion, of her back salary.

* A collective bargaining agreement negotiated pursuant to Article 14 of the Civil Service Law, the so-called Taylor Law, may provide for an alternative to this statutory provision for suspension without pay, in which case the provision set out in the collective bargaining will control.

The decisions are posted on the Internet at:

           

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