In Division of State Police v. In the Matter of Detective Sergeant First Class Daniel Flaherty, Docket No. A-0257-07T20257-07T2, the Appellate Division addressed the validity and ultimate imposition of disciplinary charges lodged against a Detective Sergeant of the New Jersey State Police. The appeal arose out of disciplinary charges filed by the New Jersey Division of State Police (“Division”) against Detective Sergeant First Class Daniel Flaherty, charging him with: (1) disseminating Division documents without proper authorization; (2) behaving in an official capacity to the personal discredit of a member of the State Police or to the Division; and (3) willfully disobeying a lawful verbal or written order.
The underlying facts of this case were not substantially in dispute. In 2001, Flaherty filed an age discrimination complaint with the New Jersey State Police Equal Employment Opportunity/Affirmative Action (“EEO/AA”) intake unit. He alleged that since 1995, the State Police had denied him numerous specialist positions because of his age. The EEO/AA assigned Lieutenant Patrick Reilly to investigate his claim. After two years, in which the allegations still had not been resolved, the EEO/AA replaced Reilly with DSFC Kevin Rowe.
On May 5, 2003, Flaherty filed a New Jersey State Police Reportable Incident Form alleging “culpable inefficiency” against Reilly. Pursuant to a Division policy regarding non-disclosure of confidential internal investigations, the Office of Professional Standards (“OPS”) denied his request to access the file regarding his complaint against Reilly.
The following month, the State Police administratively closed Flaherty’s complaint file against Reilly and transferred the matter to the Attorney General’s EEO/AA section. In a letter dated September 24, 2003, a Senior Deputy Attorney General informed Flaherty that his claim against Reilly could not be substantiated.
Thereafter, on May 31, 2003, the Division assigned Flaherty to the OPS, which was then called the State Police Internal Affairs Investigation Bureau. Pursuant to Division of Internal Affairs policies and procedures, “[t]he nature and source of internal allegations, the progress of internal affairs investigations, and the resulting materials are confidential information. The contents of internal investigation case files shall be retained in the internal affairs unit and clearly marked as confidential.” Notwithstanding these provisions, internal investigation files can be released in certain enumerated circumstances. As such, Flaherty executed a confidentiality agreement which provided the dissemination of all confidential information and/or documents.
In a letter dated February 20, 2004, the Department of Law and Public Safety found that Flaherty’s age discrimination claims could not be substantiated. In his appeal to the Department of Personnel, Flaherty questioned the manner in which the State Police and the Attorney General’s office investigated his
discrimination claims and his complaint against Reilly. Attached to the appeal were several documents from OPS internal investigation files relating to Reilly and several documents from the internal investigation file regarding his culpable inefficiency claim against Reilly. He also claimed that two other State troopers had filed reportable incident forms against Reilly, specifically citing to one of the internal investigation files.
The Department of Personnel acknowledged receipt of Flaherty’s appeal and forwarded a copy of same to the Attorney General’s office. In responding to the appeal, it became apparent Flaherty might have breached confidentiality by attaching Division documents from internal investigation files. Consequently, an investigation was commenced regarding Flaherty’s acquisition and dissemination of several of the documents referenced in and attached to his appeal. After the investigation, on August 25, 2005, the Division filed the above referenced disciplinary charges against Flaherty.
The case was ultimately transferred to the Office of Administrative Law. The Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) assigned to the case granted a summary decision in favor of the State on charges one and three, dismissed charge two, and ordered Flaherty suspended from duty for five days without pay. After the State filed exceptions seeking to increase the penalty and Flaherty challenged the grant of summary decision as well as the penalty, the Superintendent of the State Police issued a final decision on August 1, 2007, upholding the summary decision on charges one and three, but increasing the suspension to ten days. This appeal ensued.
On appeal, Flaherty asserted: (1) genuine issues of material fact precluded summary decision; (2) the ALJ failed to consider relevant evidence; (3) the ALJ applied the incorrect burden of proof; (4) the Superintendent erred by adopting the Department of Personnel’s finding that his discrimination claims were “unsubstantiated”; (5) the Superintendent erred in asserting that he has “absolute discretion” to promulgate rules and regulations; (6) he was unfairly charged with two violations based on the same facts; and (7) the ten day suspension is disproportionately harsh.
The Appellate Division rejected all of Flaherty’s arguments and affirmed the Superintendant’s decision. According to the Court, the record sustained the ALJ’s grant of summary decision imposing disciplinary action on Flaherty for attaching the records from the Internal Affairs Unit of the State Police. The Court determined Flaherty knew the records he attached to and referenced in his appeal were confidential. Moreover, the Court noted Flaherty even executed a confidentiality agreement which specifically prohibited such dissemination. As such, the Court held the ten day suspension was not disproportionately harsh and sustained the findings of the ALJ and Superintendent.