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

On August 17, 2009, the Appellate Division decided In the Matter of Juan Melendez, Docket No.: A-4617-07T1. In the case, Juan Melendez, a Hudson County Corrections Officer, appealed from a final administrative determination of the Merit System Board (“Board”) imposing a fifteen-day suspension for neglect of duty and other sufficient cause warranting discipline.

The Board adopted the initial determination of an Administrative Law Judge on a remand following his first determination that the suspension should only be for three days following Hudson County’s suspension of thirty days. On appeal, Melendez argues that: (1) the decision of the Board upholding the charges is not supported by credible evidence in the record; (2) the penalty of a fifteen day suspension is at odds with the concept of progressive discipline and appellant’s prior disciplinary history; and (3) he is entitled to attorneys’ fees based on having prevailed on all or substantially all of the primary issues.

The testimony before the ALJ revealed that Sgt. Kevin Orlik reported, and testified, that Melendez was asleep at his post in a trailer annexed to the jail on March 19, 2006 when Orlik and other officers arrived to conduct a search of the cells. In his testimony, Orlik testified that when he entered the trailer he “saw Officer Melendez reclined back in a chair with a roll of toilet paper as a pillow or cushion behind his neck,” “his eyes were closed,” and he was “motionless” as he was observed “for approximately a minute to two minutes” until other officers entered the trailer and started to make noise. Melendez testified that he wasn’t sleeping and told that to Orlik when he directed Melendez “to write a report on why [he] was sleeping.” Melendez challenged Orlik’s credibility by noting that his written report omitted details embodied in his testimony.

There was also testimony about the practice of standing when a superior officer enters the room. Melendez did not do so on the night in questions, and testified that it wasn’t a “regular routine” and he generally did not do so. Although the failure to stand was not itself a basis for discipline, it was determined to be relevant to the issue of “attentiveness” at the time, as well as to the ALJ’s finding that the inattentive conduct was a “sufficient cause” for the three-day suspension he initially imposed.

On the remand, despite making credibility determinations against Orlik because of the failure to include certain details in his written report, the ALJ found neglect of duty and “other sufficient cause” for the discipline, and found that “the failure to stand and acknowledge Sgt. Orlik’s when he entered the trailer to constitute being inattentive.”


Continue Reading Suspension of Hudson County Corrections Officer Upheld

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

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


Continue Reading Officer’s Resignation Not Attributed to Duress, Upheld

In the case entitled, In The Matter of Poplawski, 33-2-0649, the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division rendered a decision that upheld the New Jersey Department of Personnel, Merit System Board’s decision that the removal of the Appellant’s name from a promotional list was proper due to his past disciplinary history.  Poplawski appealed his employer’s action

In the case of Leek v. New Jersey Department of Corrections, 33-2-0497, a Senior Corrections Officer appealed the New Jersey Department of Personnel, Merit System Board’s decision to uphold the Department’s issuance of a thirty (30) day suspension for violation of the Department’s internal rules and regulations and conduct unbecoming a public employee.  The case

In an unpublished opinion, the Appellate Division, Superior Court of New Jersey upheld the decision of the Merit System Board, New Jersey Department of Personnel, that the appellant’s failure to file his appeal of the Final Notice of Disciplinary Action within twenty (20) days from the issuance of the Final Notice of Disciplinary Action barred