Adjunct Law Prof Blog

Editor: Mitchell H. Rubinstein
New York Law School

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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Unambiguous contract of employment language that is inconsistent with the employer’s policy nevertheless controls

Chatelle v North Country Community Coll, 2012 NY Slip Op 08215, Appellate Division, Third Department
When North Country Community College hired Shane Chatelle as its Facilities and Special Projects Manager in 2004, the College’s President provided Chatelle with a letter setting forth his salary and enclosing a copy of the resolution of its Board of Trustees approving the appointment together with a written statement of the Board's "management confidential"* staff policy “purporting to provide,” that among other benefits, that Chatelle would be compensated for up to 180 days of accumulated sick leave upon his severance from employment.
In 2011, Chatelle resigned from his position and requested compensation for his accumulated sick leave. The College, claiming that, despite the statement provided to him upon his appointment, its actual policy authorized compensation for accrued sick leave only upon retirement.
Chatelle sued, contending breach of contract, among other things. Supreme Court granted Chatelle’s motion in part, awarding him $44,114.96 in damages for breach of contract but dismissed his remaining claims. Chatelle and the College “cross appealed” the Supreme Court’s ruling.
The Appellate Division said that the written statement provided to Chatelle upon his employment indicated that he was entitled to "the benefits afforded by the existing [m]aster [a]greements except where modified or defined by the following [benefits]."
With regard to the sick leave benefit, the statement provided that Chatelle was entitled to 30 sick days per year, cumulative to 180 days and "[a]t [the] time of severance sick leave will be compensated."
Although the College, relying on extrinsic evidence, argued that the statement given to Chatelle was in error and that the Board had intended to adopt a policy that only compensated for sick leave at retirement, the Appellate Division said that had “no reason to consider this [extrinsic] evidence because the statement's language is clear and unambiguous.”
Accordingly, said the court, the College is bound by the terms of the writing provided to Chatelle as part of his employment contract “and may not rely on its unilateral mistake to void the agreement,” explaining that the text of the statement is clear and Chatelle does not rely on past practice nor claim “estoppel to enforce his contractual right.”
The Appellate Division, however, modified Supreme Court’s judgment granting Chatelle $44,114.96 as payment for his unliquidated sick leave accruals by reducing the award to $4,770, “representing [Chatelle 's] 159 accrued sick days at $30 per day."
* Presumably Chatelle was designated "managerial" or "confidential" within the meaning of  §201.7 of the Civil Service Law [The Taylor Law] upon his appointment.
The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2012/2012_08215.htm

Reprinted by permission New York Public Personnel Law

Mitchell H. Rubinstein

December 29, 2012 in Public Sector Labor Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Employer met its burden of showing employee failed to establish her age discrimination, hostile work environment, constructive discharge and retaliation claims

In this action, the plaintiff [P] alleged that she was the target of unlawful age discrimination, served in a hostile work environment, and was subjected to constrictive discharge and retaliation.
The Appellate Division sustained the Supreme Court’s dismissal of the P’s petition, finding that the employer had met its burden of demonstrating P failed to establish her claims of age discrimination, hostile work environment, constructive discharge, and retaliation.
The Appellate Division, with respect to P’s unlawful discrimination claim, explained that there was no evidence that P suffered from an adverse employment action. The assignment of P to certain non-supervisory tasks ordinarily performed by teachers constituted "merely an alteration of her responsibilities and did not result in a materially adverse change,' since [she] retained the terms and conditions of her employment, and her salary remained the same."*
The court said that P failed to raise a triable issue of fact as to her hostile work environment claim, since the alleged conduct and insults by her employer and coworkers were not "sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of [her] employment"
Addressing P’s claim of constructive discharge, the court said that standard for establishing "constructive dismissal" is higher than the standard for establishing a hostile work environment, “where, as here, the alleged constructive discharge stems from the alleged hostile work environment.” As P failed to raise a triable issue of fact with respect to her hostile work environment claim, "her claim of constructive discharge also fails.” 
Finally, the Appellate Division held that with respect to P's retaliation claim in found no evidence of an adverse employment action resulting from her filing of a notice of claim against the employer nor was there any evidence of a causal connection between P's commencement of litigation and the allegedly adverse actions against her, commenting that the conduct at issue began months before P filed the notice of claim
* As to P’s complaint alleged disciplinary memoranda in her file, threats of unsatisfactory ratings, disciplinary meetings and allegations of corporal punishment, these did not constitute adverse employment actions as P received "satisfactory end-of-year performance rating[s], and none of the [alleged] reprimands resulted in any reduction in pay or privileges."
The decision is posted on the Internet at:
Reprinted by permission New York Public Personnel Law
Mitchell H. Rubinstein

December 27, 2012 in Employment Discrimination | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Some School Districts To Begin Offering Online Classes

Online education is here to stay. Now, there are some K-12 districts that are considering online classes. A NY Times article about this is available here

I am not a big fan on online education on the college, law school or secondary level. An important part of education is learning to interact with peers, professors and others. It is also just too easy to take short cuts with an online class as the student may be watching TV instead of the screen. 

Online education also raises a host of labor law and other issues. Does anyone have an opinion about this.

Mitchell H. Rubinstein

December 26, 2012 in Education Law | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Jail Worker's Claims Not Barred by Promotion, Back-Pay Grievance Award

From the Dec. 4, 2012 Daily Labor Report:

A female corrections officer granted a promotion after she filed suit claiming she was passed over for the position because of her sex can proceed with claims against her employer, despite being awarded the job and back pay, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvaniarules (Kosek v. Luzerne Cnty., M.D. Pa., No. 3:11-cv-01558, 11/30/12).

Sarah Kosek's promotion to a correctional counselor position at Luzerne County Correctional Facility after filing a union grievance and later a federal sex discrimination action did not moot her claims against the county and prison warden under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1871, and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act because she may be entitled to additional injunctive and equitable relief, according to the court.

Mitchell H. Rubinstein

 

December 25, 2012 in Employment Discrimination | Permalink | Comments (0)