On July 28, 2009, the Appellate Division decided In the Matter of Donald Michelson, Department of Safety, City of Union. In the case, Donald Michelson sought review of the Final Administrative Action of the Merit System Board accepting and adopting the initial decision of the Office of Administrative Law (“OAL”). The Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) found that the City of Union had proven its charges of neglect of duty, other sufficient cause, and absence without leave against Michelson and concluded that the penalty of suspension without pay for six (6) work days was reasonable and consistent with progressive discipline.

On October 14, 2005, Michelson, a sergeant in the Union Police Department, was assigned to work in the communication center from 2330 hours to 0730 hours but did not report for duty. The Police Department schedule cycle requires officers to report for duty four days on and three days off per week for three weeks, then report for duty four days on and two days off for one week (called “the short week”). Before 0400 hours, Sergeant Botti, the Desk Officer Supervisor called Michelson to inquire about his absence. Apparently, Michelson mistakenly believed he was on the short week and not scheduled to work that day. He ultimately reported for duty at 0400 hours.

The Police Department charged Michelson with neglect of duty, absence without leave, and other sufficient cause. Due to his absence, which was undisputed, the ALJ determined: (1) the communication center was without supervision for approximately four and one-half hours; and (2) the desk sergeant put aside his regular duties to conduct an inquiry into Michelson’s absence. The ALJ also noted the police department operates as a paramilitary organization and prompt attendance is critical to the efficient operation of the department. The ALJ further found that the six-day suspension comported with the concept of progressive discipline. The ALJ, reasoning that Michelson had no intention to report for duty until Botti called him, rejected Michelson’s contention that he was merely tardy, not absence without leave.   

The ALJ, noting that superior officers such as Michelson must set an example for subordinate officers, also rejected Michelson’s claim that he was subjected to disparate treatment because no other officer had been suspended for arriving late. Additionally, the ALJ concluded that the record was insufficient to support a claim of disparate treatment as it did not contain the prior disciplinary records of the other employees, a factor bearing on the discipline to be imposed. Thus, no reasoned comparison could be made. Consequently, the ALJ affirmed Union’s determination that Michelson be suspended for six (6) days.

On review by the Board, it accepted and adopted the ALJ’s findings of fact and conclusions of law and found “that the action of the appointing authority in suspending [Michelson] was justified.” Accordingly, it affirmed the action and dismissed Michelson’s appeal. This appeal ensued.

On appeal, Michelson contended that the Board erred in concluding that he was absent without leave and urges that the agency erred in failing to consider disparate treatment in this case. After reviewing the record, the Appellate Division affirmed the determination by the Board. Specifically, the Court determined the findings and conclusions of the agency were supported by substantial, credible evidence in the record. As such, Michelson’s six (6) working day suspension was upheld.

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Photo of Donald C. Barbati Donald C. Barbati

Donald C. Barbati is a shareholder of Crivelli, Barbati & DeRose, L.L.C. His primary practice revolves around the representation of numerous public employee labor unions in various capacities to include contract negotiation, unfair labor practice litigation, contract grievance arbitration, and other diverse issues…

Donald C. Barbati is a shareholder of Crivelli, Barbati & DeRose, L.L.C. His primary practice revolves around the representation of numerous public employee labor unions in various capacities to include contract negotiation, unfair labor practice litigation, contract grievance arbitration, and other diverse issues litigated before the courts and administrative tribunals throughout the State of New Jersey. In addition, Mr. Barbati also routinely represents individuals in various types of public pension appeals, real estate transactions, and general litigation matters. He is a frequent contributor to the New Jersey Public Safety Officers Law Blog, a free legal publication designed to keep New Jersey public safety officers up-to-date and informed about legal issues pertinent to their profession. During his years of practice, Mr. Barbati has established a reputation for achieving favorable results for his clients in a cost-efficient manner.

Mr. Barbati has also handled numerous novel legal issues while representing New Jersey Public Safety Officers. Most notably, he served as lead counsel for the Appellants in the published case In re Rodriguez, 423 N.J. Super. 440 (App. Div. 2011). In that case, Mr. Barbati successfully argued on behalf of the Appellants, thereby overturning the Attorney General’s denial of counsel to two prison guards in a civil rights suit arising from an inmate assault. In the process, the Court clarified the standard to be utilized by the Attorney General in assessing whether a public employee is entitled to legal representation and mandated that reliance must be placed on up-to-date information.

Prior to becoming a practicing attorney, Mr. Barbati served as a judicial law clerk to the Honorable Linda R. Feinberg, Assignment Judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey, Mercer Vicinage. During his clerkship Mr. Barbati handled numerous complex and novel substantive and procedural issues arising from complaints in lieu of prerogative writs, orders to show cause, and motion practice. These include appeals from decisions by planning and zoning boards and local government bodies, bidding challenges under the Local Public Contract Law, Open Public Records Act requests, the taking of private property under the eminent domain statute, and election law disputes. In addition, Mr. Barbati, as a certified mediator, mediated many small claims disputes in the Special Civil Part.

Mr. Barbati received a Bachelor of Arts degree in history, magna cum laude, from Rider University in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. Upon graduating, Mr. Barbati attended Widener University School of Law in Wilmington, Delaware. In 2007, he received his juris doctorate, magna cum laude, graduating in the top five percent of his class. During law school, Mr. Barbati interned for the Honorable Joseph E. Irenas, Senior United States District Court Judge for the District of New Jersey in Camden, New Jersey, assisting on various constitutional, employment, and Third Circuit Court of Appeals litigation, including numerous civil rights, social security, and immigration cases.