On November 4, 2009, the Appellate Division decided In the Matter of Michael Curtin, Battalion Fire Chief (PM3593G), Elizabeth, Docket No.: A-4861-07T2. In the case, Michael Curtin appealed from the decision of the former Merit System Board (“Board”), now the New Jersey Civil Service Commission (“Commission”), denying his appeal of the scoring
Civil Service Appeals
Promotional Examination Results Remanded in Light of USERRA
On October 5, 2009, the Appellate Division decided In the Matter of John Fasanella, Docket No.: A-4455-07T1. In the case, John Fasanella, a sheriff’s officer in Mercer County, appealed a decision of the Merit System Board (“Board”) upholding adverse administrative determinations regarding a promotional examination for lieutenant.
The promotional examination for lieutenant was announced with a closing date of December 21, 2004. Fasanella was one of the nine individuals who applied for and were admitted to that examination. The examination was conducted in written form on June 9, 2005, however, Fasanella, who was on active military duty from May 12, 2004 to June 25, 2006, was unavailable to take the examination on the date it was given.
The June 9, 2005 examination resulted in a four-name eligibles list, promulgated on September 29, 2005, with an expiration date of September 28, 2008. The first-ranked person on that list, a non-veteran, was appointed effective December 1, 2005.
On July 24, 2006, shortly after Fasanella’s return from active military duty, the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs granted his application for veteran’s status. He made several requests of the Department of Personnel (“DOP”) to schedule his make-up examination for the lieutenant position. His examination occurred in June 2007. A memorandum from DOP, dated September 10, 2007, noted an “employment list change” with Fasanella ranked first on the list with veteran’s status. An October 15, 2007 memorandum from the Sheriff’s Office to Fasanella advised that the ranking had been modified as “for future certifications only.” Fasanella promptly filed his internal appeal from the latter determination.
Subsequently, DOP notified Fasanella that his veteran’s status designation had been incorrect and that the eligibles list had been corrected to reflect his rank on the then-existing list as “A1 non-veteran.” Fasanella appealed that decision.
In considering the issues raised in the two appeals, the Board rejected Fasanella’s contention that he was entitled to the lieutenant appointment because he was, ultimately, first on the eligibles list and had veteran’s status. The Board determined that Fasanella did not qualify for veteran’s status at the time the list was certified. The Board also decided that the latitude conferred on the appointing authority by operation of the “rule of three” validated the appointment of the person who had been designated, notwithstanding that he was second on the list after Fasanella’s name had been added. This appeal ensued.…
Continue Reading Promotional Examination Results Remanded in Light of USERRA
Suspension of Union Police Officer Upheld
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.…
Correction Officer Recruit Trainee Pilot Demonstration Program Declared Void
On July 23, 2009, the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division issued its opinion in the case of James Liik, et al v. New Jersey Department of Personnel/New Jersey Department of Corrections, Docket Number A-4121-06T2.
This particular opinion has widespread implications in regard to pay and seniority of thousands of New Jersey corrections officers presently employed with the New Jersey Department of Corrections.
By way of background, in 1997, the New Jersey Department of Corrections and New Jersey Department of Personnel created and implemented a pilot program which modified training procedures for corrections officer recruits. Prior to the implementation of the pilot program, candidates for employment with the Department of Corrections were hired as employees and assigned the rank of “correction officer recruit” during their period of training and completion of their working test period. During this time, corrections officer recruits received full salary and benefits available for this particular rank. Once the working test period associated with the position of corrections officer trainee was successfully completed, they were then promoted to the position of senior corrections officer. The pilot program eliminated this practice and those individuals seeking employment with the New Jersey Department of Corrections were designated as “students/trainees.”
As a result of this change, they were no longer considered employees of the New Jersey Department of Corrections, but instead received the lesser rank of corrections officer recruit/trainee during the 14-week training period. During this 14-week training period, instead of receiving the regular salary of a corrections officer recruit, they received a $300 weekly stipend. If a recruit trainee successfully completed the prescribed program of training, they then became “employees” of the New Jersey Department of Corrections and received the salary and benefits of a corrections officer recruit. Despite the fact that the program was to last for only a period of one year, the New Jersey Department of Corrections and Department of Personnel made the program permanent in 1999. A stipend of $300.00 that was to be paid to student trainees never increased over the following years and a significant financial burden and hardship was placed upon those individuals seeking employment with the New Jersey Department of Corrections.…
Continue Reading Correction Officer Recruit Trainee Pilot Demonstration Program Declared Void
Candidate Properly Bypassed Under Rule of Three
On June 18, 2009, the Appellate Division decided In the Matter of Andre Ruiz, Firefighter (M2271E), City of Camden, Docket No.: A-2611-07T2. In the case, Andrte Ruiz appealed the Final Administrative Action of the Merit System Board (“Board”) issued on October 11, 2007, concluding that the City of Camden (“City”) properly bypassed Ruiz under the “Rule of Three.” Ruiz also appeals from the Board’s January 22, 2008 Final Administrative Action denying his petition for reconsideration.
On October 3, 2005, the Department of Personnel (“DOP”) issued Certification Number Ol052133 to the City respecting open-competitive lists M2013A and M2271E containing the names of 150 eligible candidates for the position of firefighter. Ruiz was on list M2271E. The City returned the certification in March 2006 proposing the removal of several names, including that of Ruiz, ranked thirty-sixth, on the ground that he failed to meet the City’s residency requirements. On April 3, 2006, the City appointed thirty-five eligible candidates to the position of firefighter while the propriety of the proposed removals was still pending before the DOP.
On January 18, 2007, the Board determined that the City had failed to establish that Ruiz and five other eligible candidates, including Ruiz’s brother who resided at the same address as Ruiz, did not reside in the City. As such, the Board ordered the City to either produce sufficient documentation to support removal of the six eligible candidates based on non-residency, appoint them, or produce adequate justification for bypassing them or removing them on other grounds within sixty (60) days.
On March 14, 2007, the City responded to the Board’s January 18, 2007 decision by submitting additional documentation to the DOP seeking to establish that Ruiz and the five other eligible candidates did not meet the City’s residency requirements. Thereafter, on April 3, 2006, the City notified the DOP that it had used the Rule of Three to appoint thirty-five eligible candidates to the position of firefighter. Despite stating it employed the Rule of Three, the City represented that no eligible candidates had been bypassed and appointments had been made through eligible candidate No. 74. The City sought entry of an order that it had properly disposed of open-competitive lists M2013A and M2271E.
On March 20, 2007, the DOP issued a disposition-deficiency notice to the City, notifying it that the reasons it had submitted for removal of Ruiz and two other eligible candidates, including Ruiz’s brother, based upon non-residency were not acceptable. It permitted the City to bypass two of the three eligible candidates provided the City submitted a short, written positive statement explaining why other lower or equally ranked eligible candidates were appointed. However, it required that the City appoint one of the three eligible candidates.…
Continue Reading Candidate Properly Bypassed Under Rule of Three
MSB Promotional Examination Decision Upheld
On May 7, 2009, the Appellate Division decided In the Matter of Steven Howe and Joseph Mufalli, Docket No. A-3512-07T1. In the case, Steven Howe appealed from the final administrative determination of the Merit System Board (“Board”), issued December 21, 2007, and its determination of March 13, 2008, denying his motion for reconsideration…
Various Unions Seek to Block Institution of Furlough Program
Four New Jersey unions are asking a court to stop mandatory furloughs of public workers. Yesterday, March 30, 2009, the New Jersey Policemen’s Benevolent Association and the Communication Workers of America, which collectively represent 93,000 police officers, firefighters and rank-and-file state and municipal workers, filed separate actions in the Superior Court of New…
Potential for Reimbursement of Wages Received During Period of Suspension
On March 20, 2009, the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey decided the case of Wade v. Colaner. In the case, plaintiff, a Tinton Falls police officer, was pulled over by New Jersey State Troopers for speeding. Plaintiff was subsequently charged with careless driving, obstruction of administration of law, and resisting arrest. On…
180 Day Bill Signed and Committed Into Law
On March 5, 2009, New Jersey Governor Jon S. Corzine signed and committed into law the “180 day bill” designed to expedite disciplinary proceedings when law enforcement officers and firefighters are suspended without pay by limiting the number of days pay can be suspended while hearings are still pending.
Corzine stated in a press release…
Legislative Proposal Seeks to Provide Law Enforcement Officers Pay Status When Appeals of Termination Are Not Resolved Within 180 Days
This blog entry will focus upon our review of certain statutory proposals currently pending in the New Jersey Legislature concerning the pay status of law enforcement officers when appeals of termination are not resolved within 180 days. These proposals are set forth in Assembly Bill Number 3481.
Assembly Bill 3481 concerns the suspensions of certain law enforcement officers and firefighters and supplements Title 40A of the New Jersey statutes and specifically amends N.J.S.A. 40A:14-150 and N.J.S.A. 40A:14-22. In essence, the bill allows certain law enforcement officers and firefighters to regain pay status when appeals of termination are not resolved within 180 days.
The first part of the bill provides:
When a law enforcement officer employed by a law enforcement agency…that is subject to the provisions of Title 11A of the New Jersey Statutes is suspended from performing his official duties without pay for a complaint or charges, other than (1) a complaint or charges relating to the subject matter of a pending criminal investigation…whether pre-indictment or post indictment, or (2) when the complaint or charges allege conduct that also would constitute a violation of the criminal laws of this State or any other jurisdiction, and the law enforcement agency employing the officer…seeks to terminate that officer’s…employment for the conduct that was the basis for the officer’s…suspension without pay, a final determination on the officer’s…suspension and termination shall be rendered within 180 calendar days from the date the officer…is suspended without pay.…
Continue Reading Legislative Proposal Seeks to Provide Law Enforcement Officers Pay Status When Appeals of Termination Are Not Resolved Within 180 Days