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New York Law School

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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Proving Disciplinary Charges

An employee was found guilty of some of the thirty specifications of misconduct and incompetence filed against her. The hearing officer found the employee guilty of seventeen of these thirty specifications and recommended that she be dismissed from her position.
Specifications of misconduct and incompetence filed against the employee included allegations of excessive lateness, failure to properly carry out assigned duties, and actions in contradiction of established employer procedure. The hearing officer's findings and recommendations were adopted by the appointing authority and the individual was dismissed from her position. In sustaining the determination, the Appellate Division, Third Department noted that: the findings of a Hearing Examiner will be confirmed if they are supported by substantial evidence in the record even where conflicting evidence may have supported a different determination.
What constitutes "substantial evidence" is the significant issue in such cases. The decision illustrates some of the factors that courts weigh in determining whether there is substantial evidence to support the findings of the hearing officer.
The hearing officer found the employee guilty of seven of the 12 specifications concerning her alleged failure to perform assigned clerical tasks properly. The court, however, concluded that "only six of the seven specifications should be confirmed based upon the testimony proffered by petitioner's supervisor." Why? Because, explained the court, testimony that employee had typed the incorrect labels because the witness recognized the font from the individual’s typewriter was insufficient as there was testimony establishing that there were several typewriters in that office using that particular font. As the witness could not testify that she witnessed the employee preparing these folders and the employee denied that the error was hers, the court said it could not conclude that there was sufficient evidence to support this allegation.
The hearing officer also found the employee guilty of six of thirteen specifications alleging that she improperly performing her duties by exceeding her authority or violating the employer’s policy. In this instance the court held that the record supported the hearing officer's findings, noting that the employee was advised of these problems in her performance in various performance evaluation, together with the need for her to improve in these areas.
With respect to disciplinary specifications focusing on the employee's use of the workplace to conduct personal business and engage in lengthy personal telephone calls, the Appellate Division ruled that the testimony of her superiors, confirmed by a co-worker, was sufficient to prove the allegations.
The court also said that it did not find any error in the hearing officer finding the employee guilty of 36 of the 48 allegations that she had arrived late for work on specified dates. These allegations, said the court, were supported either by the employee's time sheets or by testimony from her superior or co-workers.
The Appellate Division remanded the matter to the employer for its consideration of the appropriate penalty to be imposed in view of its finding the employee not guilty of certain charges and specifications. The court also said that it noted that the employee had been given numerous oral admonitions and counseling memoranda warning her of "further disciplinary action," but held that such actions did not constitute "punishment" such that the present disciplinary proceeding could be deemed duplicative.
The decision is posted on the Internet at:
Reprinted with permission New York Public Personnel Law
Mitchell H. Rubinstein

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/adjunctprofs/2012/10/proving-disciplinary-charges.html

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