March 16, 2018

Administrative Law Judge finds correction officer exercised reasonable and prudent judgment under the circumstances

Administrative Law Judge finds correction officer exercised reasonable and prudent judgment under the circumstances
Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, Index No. 0005/18

A New York City Correction Officer was served with disciplinary charges alleging that the officer [1] had abandoned his station to confront an inmate; [2] failed to anticipate a use of force; [3] used excessive force against an inmate and [4] filed a false report.

The officer testified that he had left his post because he was unable to communicate with the inmate through "the window slot;" he did not contact a supervisor because believed he could use interpersonal skills to obtain the information; and it was not until the inmate struck the officer did the situation quickly escalate.

OATH Administrative Law Judge Alessandra F. Zorgniotti held that the officer’s testimony, which was corroborated by the video tape of the event, was credible. 

Finding that the officer exercised reasonable and prudent judgment under the circumstances, Judge Zorgniotti recommended that the appointing authority dismiss the disciplinary charges filed against the correction officer.  

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

March 15, 2018

Terminating a "long-time" provisional employee

Terminating a "long-time" provisional employee
Pena-Barrero v. City of New York, USCA Second Circuit, Docket #17-1286

Luis Pena-Barrero was employed in a variety of positions by the City of New York between 1994 and 2012. Although Pena-Barrero was eligible to take the appropriate required civil service exam on multiple occasions during his time as an employee of the City, he never did so and therefore remained a “pure provisional” employee.

§65(1) of the New York State Civil Service Law provides that "[n]o provisional appointment shall continue for a period in excess of nine months," and "in no case shall the employment of any such provisional appointee be continued longer than four months following the establishment of [an] eligible list" of candidates for the position."*

In 2008 Pena-Barrero's then employer, Department of Citywide Administrative Services [DCAS], implemented a plan to come into substantial compliance with §65 and issued a Notice of Examination in 2009 for the position provisionally held by Pena-Barrero, with the examination to take place in February 2010. Pena-Barrero did not apply to take the February 2010 examination. Subsequently an eligible list for the position in which Pena-Barrero was then serving was promulgated but, nevertheless, he remained provisionally employed by DCAS "long after the civil service list for his position was established"

On or about October 5, 2012 Pena-Barrero was informed that he would be terminated from his position, whereupon he initiated the CPLR Article 78 action contending that he was "impermissibly discriminated against, retaliated against, and subject to a hostile work environment, in violation of the federal Civil Rights Act and Family and Medical Leave Act [FMLA], the New York State Human Rights Law [NYSHRL], and the New York City Human Rights Law [NYCHRL]"

The Circuit Court of Appeals held that Pena-Barrero’s claims for race, national origin, and disability discrimination suffer from fundamental flaws in light of his failure to pass the civil service examination for his position. Accordingly, he could not demonstrate a prima facie case of discrimination because he was unable to show that he was qualified for appointment to the position. Further, opined the court, "Even assuming arguendo that Pena-Barrero could establish prima facie discrimination," his discrimination claims would nevertheless fail because he cannot establish that DCAS's proffered reason for his termination “is in fact pretext for unlawful discrimination.”

The court held that the record is clear that Pena-Barrero was terminated by action taken by DCAS’s Provisional Reduction Analysis Team and "there is simply no evidence" that his race, national origin, or disability played any role in his termination. In the words of the Circuit Court of Appeals, "As we have repeatedly explained ... there is no evidence that Pena-Barrero was terminated for any reason other than the fact that he was not qualified to remain employed by DCAS under the New York Civil Service Law.

* It is well settled that a provisional or temporary appointment cannot mature into a permanent one unless the incumbent satisfies the requirements set out in the Civil Service Law for permanent appointment to the position. See, for example, Matter of Gaiser, 15 AD2d 793; Russell v Hodges, CA2, 470 F2d 212. In contrast, decisions addressing the continuation in service of a provisional employee who becomes eligible for permanent appointment to the position include Matter of Roulette, 40 AD2d 611, Haynes v Chautauqua County, 55 NY2d 814, Becker v New York State Civil Service Commission, 61 NY2d 252 and La Sota v Green, 53 NY2d 491.

March 14, 2018

In cases involving alleged abuse of a minor child courts owe “unusual deference” to a school official’s decision to report reasonably suspected abuse and neglect

In cases involving alleged abuse of a minor child courts owe “unusual deference” to a school official’s decision to report reasonably suspected abuse and neglect
Maco v. Baldwin Union Free School District et. al, USCA Second Circuit, Docket No.17-1539

Rhonda L. Maco, alleging that two Baldwin Union Free School District employees, Lori A. Presti, and Carrie Billitzki reported "potential child abuse to a state agency in retaliation for a complaint Maco made about Billitzki’s treatment of Maco’s minor child [Minor Child]," sued the Baldwin School District, Presti and Billitzki, [Defendants] in federal district court.

The district court dismissed Maco's complaint, holding that "no reasonable jury could find that the Defendants had a retaliatory motive or that Maco sustained an injury. Maco appealed the district court summary dismissal of her petition contending that "Defendants failed to show entitlement to judgment because a reasonable juror could find that Presti’s report of suspected child abuse was 'motivated or substantially caused' by Maco’s complaint about M.C.'s treatment" by Presti.

The Circuit Court sustained the district court's ruling. Rejecting Maco's arguments, the court explained  that it "owes 'unusual deference' to school administrators (or 'mandated reporters') who are required by law to report suspected child abuse, absent a 'clear showing of retaliatory or punitive intent,' where the administrator has 'a sufficient basis to suspect potential abuse,' the report is, as a matter of law, not retaliatory."

The decision states the Minor Child told Presti that Maco had checked Minor Child out of school and taken her home, where Maco had slapped her face multiple times and struck her three times with a belt. School records showed that Maco had signed Minor Child out of school for an appointment earlier that day. This, said the court, was a “sufficient basis to suspect potential abuse,” even though Presti’s pre-report investigation was relatively brief and did not include speaking to Minor Child’s teacher.

Although Maco, relying on decisions interpreting Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, argued that a retaliation claim can lie even where there are “objectively valid grounds” for the retaliatory action, the Circuit Court noted that in the specialized context of a school administrator’s decision to report suspected child abuse, a more demanding standard applies.

The court also rejected Maco’s assertion of protected speech involving a complaint she made concerning Billitzki in June 2013, ten months prior to Presti’s April 2014 report of suspected child abuse. Although Billitzki was admittedly upset with Maco’s complaint at the time, there was no evidence in the record that Maco’s complaint was a consideration when Presti reported the abuse.

Noting that it is true that there is no “bright line . . . beyond which a temporal relationship is too attenuated to establish a causal relationship” in retaliation cases, in this case the court observed that "the lapse of time between speech and adverse action (and the lack of evidence connecting them) negates any inference of causation," even if, as Maco suggests, Minor Child’s report of corporal punishment provided Defendants with their “first actual opportunity to retaliate.”

The Circuit Court also noted that Maco’s remaining evidence was "even less probative of retaliatory motive" with respect to the fact that Presti reported the suspected abuse without first discussing Minor Child’s behavior with the child's teacher, even though Presti allegedly should have known that Minor Child was a habitual liar.

Presti, said the court, correctly evaluated Minor Child’s credibility on the day in question as "Maco had, in fact, taken [Minor Child] out of school and struck her multiple times—this evidence is scarcely probative of motive." Although this and other factors set out in the decision, may, in some circumstances, "support an inference of retaliatory motive," in this instance the court said it concluded that Maco’s evidence falls short of the requisite “clear showing of retaliatory or punitive intent.”

The court, in consideration of the “unusual deference” it owes to school administrators’ “decisions to report reasonably suspected abuse and neglect,” concluded that Presti’s report was non-retaliatory as a matter of law."

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

March 13, 2018

Acquiring tenure in the position by tenure by "operation of law," sometimes referred to as tenure by estoppel or tenure by acquiesce

Acquiring tenure in a position by "operation of law," sometimes referred to as  tenure by estoppel or tenure by acquiesce
Matter of Mogilski v Westbury Union Free Sch. Dist., 2018 NY Slip Op 01063, Appellate Division, Second Department

Should the appointing authority fail, or neglect, to timely notify a probationer that he or she is to be terminated for failure to satisfactorily complete his or her probationary period  on or before the end of the individual's probationary period, the employee is deemed to have obtained tenure by "operation of law," sometimes referred to as  tenure by estoppel or tenure by acquiesce.

In Mogilski v Westbury Union Free School District the Appellate Division determined that Mogilski had obtained tenure in his position by "operation of law."

Westbury Union Free School District [District] appointed Anthony Mogilski as a Supervisor of School Facilities and Operations on September 21, 2015 subject to Mogilski's satisfactory completion of a 26-week probationary period scheduled to end March 21 next following.  On February 2, 2016, the District informed Mogilski that his probationary period was being extended for 12 days due to school closings for holidays, which, said the District, extended his probationary period through April 6, 2016.

The District's request for the extension was approved by the Nassau County Civil Service Commission [Commission] and on March 28 the School Board of Education adopted a resolution terminating Mogilski's employment "effective the last day of his probationary period, which is March 29, 2016 ...." A termination of employment letter was delivered to Mogilski on March 29.

On March 29, however, the District was informed by the Commission that it had incorrectly "authorized the extension" of Mogilski's probationary period for 12 days when the extension should have been 6 days, thereby resulting Mogilski'sprobationary period "officially" ending on March 29 rather than April 6.

Mogilskifiled an Article 78 petition seeking a court order reinstating him to his former position in which he alleged that the District exceeded its jurisdiction, and acted arbitrarily,  capriciously, and irrationally in extending his probationary period. He contended that the Commission's rules with respect to a probationer's term being extended for authorized or unauthorized absences on "workdays" does not authorize such an extension for school closings on holidays.*

Although Supreme Court denied Mogilski's petition, holding it was not an abuse of discretion for the District to treat absences resulting from "holiday" school closings the same as absences for sick leave, vacation, jury duty, and other authorized or  unauthorized absences for purposes of extending a probationer's term, the Appellate Division disagreed and reversed Supreme Court's ruling.

The Appellate Division explained that the relevant Commission rule indicated that "it is proper to extend a probationary term by the number of 'workdays' an employee is 'absent' or 'workdays' an employee missed due to sick leave, vacation, or jury duty" and that this court had previously ruled "it is rational to interpret 'workdays' to include 'all of those days when [Mogilski's] presence would normally have been required.'" However, said the court, a school closing due to a holiday "is not a day when [Mogilski's]would have required" to work and the extension of his probationary period in consideration of the school being closed due to a holiday was improper.

The court directed the District to reinstate Mogilski to his position of Supervisor of School Facilities and Operations with back pay and all benefits of his employment.

* 4 NYCRR 4.5(g), addressing absence during probationary term with respect to employees of the State as the employer, in pertinent part, provides that "Any periods of authorized or unauthorized absence aggregating up to 10 workdays during the probationary term, or aggregating up to 20 workdays if the probationary term or maximum term exceeds 26 weeks, may, in the discretion of the appointing authority, be considered as time served in the probationary term ... Any such periods of absence not so considered by the appointing authority as time served in the probationary term, and any periods of absence in excess of periods considered by the appointing authority as time served in the probationary term pursuant to this subdivision, shall not be counted as time served in the probationary term. The minimum and maximum periods of the probationary term of any employee shall be extended by the number of workdays of his absence which, pursuant to this subdivision, are not counted as time served in the probationary term."

Many local civil service commissions and personnel officers have adopted a similar rule.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

March 12, 2018

A resolution increasing a NYSHIP participating employer's contribution for health insurance premiums is temporary absent a manifest intent to create a permanent right

A resolution increasing a NYSHIP participating employer's contribution for health insurance premiums is temporary absent a manifest intent to create a permanent right
Bruckman v New York State Thruway Auth., 2018 NY Slip Op 01526, Appellate Division, Third Department

The complainants [Petitioners] in this CPLR Article 78 action are retired employees of New York State Thruway Authority [NYSTA]. NYSTA, a participating employer in the New York State Health Insurance Program [NYSHIP] as set out in Article 11 of the Civil Service Law, provides health insurance benefits to its employees and retirees.

A participating NYSHIP employer must pay at least 50% of the cost of the premium for individual coverage and not less than thirty-five% of the cost of premium or subscription charges for the coverage of dependents of such employees and retired employees. A participating NYSHIP employer, however, may elect to pay higher rates of contribution towards the employees' health insurance premiums for employees, retired employees, and the dependents of employees and retired employees. Further, a participating employer may elect to pay a higher or lower rate of contribution for its retired employees or their dependents, or both, than that paid by the State for its retired employees or their dependents, or both.

NYSTA's policy governing payment of health insurance premiums for retirees, last amended in 1976, provided that retirees would not be required to make any contribution toward the cost of individual coverage and each Petitioner received individual health coverage at no cost pursuant to the policy as it then existed upon his or her retirement.

In November 2015, NYSTA amended this the policy to require that retirees who had been retired for less than 25 years, and whose health insurance premium contribution rates were not subject to the provisions of a collective bargaining agreement negotiated pursuant to Article 14 of the Civil Service Law, commonly referred to as the Taylor Law, were to contribute six percent of the cost of the premiums for their individual coverage effective April 1, 2016.* As Petitioners served in positions designated "managerial or confidential" within the meaning of the Taylor Law, neither their employment nor their retirement was subject to the provisions of a collective bargaining agreement.

In March 2016, Petitioners commenced this Article 78 action seeking to, among other things, have the court annul NYSTA's decision to modify the contribution amount Petitioners had to pay for health insurance, contending that the revised policy breached "their vested right to receive individual health insurance coverage in retirement at no cost" and that the NYSTA's adoption of the revised policy was arbitrary and capricious.

Supreme Court dismissed the petition and Petitioners appealed.

Essentially Petitioners argued that the NYSTA policy that was in effect when each of them retired constituted "a unilateral offer by NYSTA to provide them with lifetime individual health insurance coverage in retirement at no cost," and that their right to such coverage vested and became an enforceable contract upon retirement.

Citing Aeneas McDonald Police Benevolent Assn. v City of Geneva, 92 NY2d 326, the Appellate Division disagreed with Petitioners, holding that "A municipal resolution is, in general, a unilateral action that is temporary in nature and, thus, it does not create any vested contractual rights."  The court explained that it is presumed that such resolutions do not "create private contractual or vested rights but merely declare a policy to be pursued until the legislative body shall ordain otherwise" and "[p]rivate contractual rights are created by municipal resolution only where the language of the resolution and the attendant circumstances clearly manifest the intent to create such rights."

Noting that there was nothing in the language of NYSTA's 1976 policy that would create private contractual rights, the decision pointed out that the rules and regulations governing NYSHIP specifically provide that a participating employer "that increases its rate of contribution toward the cost of health insurance benefits may thereafter decrease its rate of contribution to the statutory minimum."

* In Lippman v Board of Educ. of Sewanhaka Cent. High School Dist., 66 NY2d 313,  the Court of Appeals held that health insurance upon retirement is not a retirement benefit subject to the provisions of Article V, §7 of the State Constitution [Membership in retirement systems; benefits not to be diminished nor impaired].

The decision is posted on the Internet at:


Subsequent court and administrative rulings, or changes to laws, rules and regulations may have modified or clarified or vacated or reversed the decisions summarized here. Accordingly, these summaries should be Shepardized® or otherwise checked to make certain that the most recent information is being considered by the reader.
New York Public Personnel Law Blog Editor Harvey Randall served as Principal Attorney, New York State Department of Civil Service; Director of Personnel, SUNY Central Administration; Director of Research, Governor’s Office of Employee Relations; and Staff Judge Advocate General, New York Guard. Consistent with the Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations, the material posted to this blog is presented with the understanding that neither the publisher nor NYPPL and, or, its staff and contributors are providing legal advice to the reader and in the event legal or other expert assistance is needed, the reader is urged to seek such advice from a knowledgeable professional.
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