A recent New Jersey employment law decision by the Appellate Division of the State Superior Court in the case of Matter of Brian Clancy, illustrates the procedures – and some of the pitfalls – of appeals from the removal of candidates from civil service eligible lists.
Background: Removal from the Eligible List
Clancy hoped to become a sheriff’s officer with the Bergen County Sheriff’s Officer, a civil service employer. He took the civil service exam, passed, and was placed on the eligible list. Thereafter, the Sheriff’s Office conducted a routine pre-employment background investigation, which is normal procedure after a candidate for a law enforcement officer position is placed on an eligible list for an agency. Based on the results of the investigation, the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office removed Clancy’s name from the eligible list.
The removal was based in main part on Clancy’s prior employment history in law enforcement and his driving record. The investigation showed that he had been placed on probation and thereafter dismissed from college. His driving record showed seventeen guilty pleas to motor vehicle violations, three convictions, seven license suspensions, ten failures to appear at required court dates, and three bench warrants for his arrest for failing to appear.
The court explained that the investigation revealed that his employment history was no better. The investigation found that he was terminated as a dispatcher from the Bergen County Police Department; terminated as a security officer with the Stockton University Police Department; and also terminated as a police officer by the Rutgers University Police Department.
Clancy’s Appeal to the New Jersey Civil Service Commission
Clancy appealed his removal to the New Jersey Civil Service Commission. Clancy argued that his drivers license was in good standing and therefore his prior driving record should not be held against him. He also argued that his employment record should not be held against him. He argued that he resigned from the Bergen County Police Department and was unaware that his supervisor had requested that he be terminated. He argued that because he was terminated at the end of a working test period at Stockton, rather than for disciplinary reasons, this likewise should not count against him. He argued that his termination from Rutgers was improper because he did not receive a disciplinary hearing. He also argued that he withdrew from college and was not dismissed.
In a written decision, the New Jersey Civil Service Commission denied his appeal, accepting the Sheriff’s Office’s arguments. The Civil Service Commission had found that even accepting Clancy’s arguments as true, his employment history showed an inability to maintain long term employment with multiple law enforcement agencies. It also held that Clancy’s driving record showed a disregard for the law and questionable judgment unacceptable in a law enforcement officer.
Clancy then appealed to the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey.
The Appellate Division’s Decision
The Appellate Division rejected Clancy’s arguments and upheld the Civil Service Commission’s decision affirming the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office’s removal of Clancy from the list.
Initially, the Appellate Division explained that appellate courts generally give deference to administrative agencies’ decisions, such as those of the Civil Service Commission. The will not overturn them unless the find that “the agency’s decision to be arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable, or not supported by substantial credible evidence in the record as a whole.” The burden to show this is on the prospective candidate. The Appellate Division then went on to explain that the New Jersey Civil Service Act, Title 11A of New Jersey Statutes, allows a civil service employer to remove a candidate from an eligible list based on the results of a background investigation.
Applying these principles to Clancy’s background, the Appellate Division explained that even if everything Clancy said was true, his removal from the list was proper. Clancy had not carried his burden to prove that his removal was “be arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable, or not supported by substantial credible evidence in the record as a whole.” Indeed, just the opposite, the record showed that the Civil Service Commission’s decision was anything but arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable or unsupported by the record. Indeed, the Appellate Division noted that his driving record alone was sufficient to warrant his removal.
When applying for a position as a New Jersey law enforcement officer, passing and doing well on the civil service examination is important, but not everything. Even if a candidate passes, she can be removed for problems in her background. These include criminal or motor vehicle problems and past employment issues. This is only reasonable given the high trust and authority which society places on its law enforcement officers.
However, there is an avenue for relief from improper list removals. While the candidate here had overwhelming problems in his record, most candidates don’t. Some are removed for far less. No candidate is perfect. Many times it can be proved that removal from the list was improper. The Civil Service Commission and Appellate Division provide real avenues of relief for candidates who have been improperly removed from civil service eligible lists. Thus, often times removal is not the end of the story, and improperly removed candidates can and do win appeals and go on to successful careers in law enforcement and other civil service positions.
Our New Jersey employment attorneys help law enforcement officers and other civil service candidates and employees appeal improper employment actions by their current or prospective employers, including appeals from improper removal from eligible lists. Call us at (973) 890-0004 or fill out the contact form on this page to schedule a consultation with one of our New Jersey civil service lawyers. We can help.