Adjunct Law Prof Blog

Editor: Mitchell H. Rubinstein
New York Law School

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Who is the employer?

Who was the employer who fired Floral Park Public Library part-time library clerk Barbara Beers: the Village of Floral Park or the Floral Park Public Library? Such a simple question is not as easy to answer as one might expect.

Barbara Beers was terminated from her position as a part-time clerk by the Floral Park Public Library. She sued both the village and the library, claiming that she had been unlawfully removed from her position without a hearing.

Actually Beers filed a “hybrid proceeding” consisting of an Article 78 to compel the library to reinstate her to her former position and a complaint contending the library violated 42 USC 1983, a federal civil rights statute, when it deprived her of a property right -- her job -- without a due process hearing. She also named the village as a defendant based on representations by its attorney that she had been an employee of the village.

In response, both the village and the library filed motions seeking to have Beers’ petition dismissed. The village said it should be severed from the action on the grounds that (notwithstanding the village attorney’s statements to Beers) it was not Beers’ former employer. The village argued that the library was not an agency or department of the village.

The library contended that Beers’ Article 78 action was untimely, having been filed more than four months after she had been terminated. A Supreme Court judge granted both motions and Beers appealed.

The Appellate Division commenced its analysis by noting that a public library is an educational corporation chartered by the New York State Board of Regents with the authority to hire, fire, and pay its employees and that the Education Law provides that a public library is an entity that is “separate and distinct from the municipality that created it.” It then noted that the relationship between the municipality and the public library may be varied by contract, either express or implied.

Was there an implied contract? Based on the record of the municipality’s behavior, the Appellate Division said that there was a triable issue of fact to be resolved as to which entity was Beers’ employer.

The court noted that the village had offered Beers a comparable clerk’s job and sent her a notice directing her to appear on a date certain for employment. In addition, the court said that the village, in its original answer, admitted “that it employed her”. Accordingly, said the court, it was not clear if the village assumed responsibility for the library’s employees, and thereby responsibility for her termination.

As to Beers’ claims against the library, the Appellate Division said that her Article 78 action was untimely because it was filed more than four months after her termination. It commented that Beers “knew that she worked in the library and that the library functioned separately through a board of trustees.”

However, the Appellate Division ruled that Beers’ complaint contending that the library had violated her civil rights under 42 USC 1983 because it terminated her without a hearing was timely.

The question of who is Beers’ employer and whether she was denied her rights to due process will now have to be considered by a state Supreme Court judge.

The decision, Beers v Village of Floral Park, 262 AD2d 315 , is posted on the Internet at:

Reprinted with permission New York Public Personnel Law

Mitchell H. Rubinstein

Employment Law | Permalink


NY is an employment-at-will state. Absent an employer policy or collective bargaining agreement provision granting the right to a hearing, why can't she be dispatched summarily?

Posted by: joe marino | Dec 31, 2010 7:28:58 AM

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