In In the Matter of Thomas F. Fricano, Borough of Freehold, Docket No.: A-2280-07T3, the Appellate Division addressed Appellant Thomas Fricano’s appeal from final decisions of the Merit System Board (“Board”), dated September 27, 2007 and December 7, 2007, upholding his resignation in good standing from the Borough of Freehold Police Department.
By way of background, Fricano received a regular appointment as a police officer in Freehold on April 3, 2006. The appointment was subject to the successful completion of a one-year probationary working test period, commencing after completion of a police training course. On February 2, 2007, Fricano, in a written letter, resigned to pursue other opportunities in law enforcement. The appointing authority accepted the resignation, which was made effective February 22, 2007.
The circumstances surrounding Fricano’s resignation are in dispute and at the core of the appeal. According to Fricano, on February 2, 2007, after having served ten months of his one-year probationary working term, he was summoned to the office of the Police Chief. Allegedly, the Chief ordered Fricano “to resign or be terminated immediately.” Denied his request for legal representation or to have a PBA representative present, Fricano drafted and submitted a letter of resignation under duress and coercion. Thereafter, on February 16, 2007, Fricano’s counsel wrote to the Chief requesting that he be able to rescind the resignation. The Borough attorney advised Fricano that he would not be reinstated, instead stating that “they could have fired him instead.” Subsequently, on March 13, 2007, Fricano was issued a preliminary notice of disciplinary action, charging him with numerous violations. On March 22, 2007, the appointing authority withdrew the charges and, thereafter, on March 28, 2007, issued Fricano a letter indicating that he did not satisfactorily complete his working test period and that he was being terminated effective April 3, 2007.
The Borough offers a different version. When called to his office, the Chief advised Fricano that his performance during the working test period had not been satisfactory, and, therefore, offered him the option to resign effective February 22 or face termination for failure to satisfactorily complete his working test period. This offer was made so that Fricano could avoid any stigma which might attach to an involuntary termination. Fricano decided to resign and submitted a resignation letter the same day. In the letter, Fricano explain that he resigned to pursue “a different choice in the Law Enforcement Career.” Although he did not work after February 2, he was paid through February 22, and his resignation was recorded effective February 22, 2007. After being subsequently informed of Fricano’s intention to challenge his resignation, the police department issued the preliminary notice of disciplinary action on March 13, 2007. On March 22, 2007, the police department withdrew the charges and, instead, as a cautionary measure, issued a letter to
Fricano informing him that he had not successfully completed his working test period.
Thereafter, Fricano filed an administrative appeal challenging his resignation. In a September 27, 2007 decision, the Board upheld the resignation, finding insufficient evidence that Fricano’s resignation was the product of duress or coercion. This appeal followed.
The Appellate Division affirmed the Board’s finding that Fricano voluntarily resigned his position. The Court determined there was sufficient credible evidence that Fricano was told he would be terminated because he had not satisfactorily performed during his working test period. Moreover, the Court found that Fricano voluntarily chose to accept the offered opportunity to resign to avoid any stigma attached to termination. According to the Court, Fricano’s deliberate choice of available alternatives cannot, under the circumstances of this case, be ascribed to duress.