Articles Posted in Civil Service Law

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A recent appellate New Jersey employment law decision in the case of In the Matter of F.S., Police Officer (S9999U), City of Jersey City outlines the procedures for appeals by applicants who were removed from a list of eligible candidates for civil service law enforcement orjoe-b-300x200 firefighter positions for psychological reasons.  While the candidate lost his appeal, the Appellate Division’s opinion should give candidates faith that they will receive a fair shake before the Medical Review Panel and New Jersey Civil Service Commission.

F.S.’s Application with the Jersey City Police Department

F.S. passed the civil service test and received a conditional offer of employment to become a police officer with the Jersey City Police Department, a civil service employer.  The offer was conditioned upon F.S.’s successful completion of a psychological examination.

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Government employees receive significant due process rights to challenge employer discipline which private sector employees and employees in non-civil service jurisdictions do not enjoy.  However, because New Jersey employment law recognizes the great responsibility placed onhttps://www.newjerseylawyersblog.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/195/2018/07/police-officer-sil.-300x254.png law enforcement officers, the Legislature has enacted robust procedures for police officers not covered by civil service to appeal discipline to the Superior Court.  Nonetheless, in the case of Miller vs. Borough of Berlin Police, the Appellate Division reminds us that the burden of proof remains on the officer and evidence is king.

Background

Jason Miller was a police officer with the Borough of Berlin Police Department, a non-civil service jurisdiction.  He was dispatched to a banquet hall because of a report of the theft of a purse.  Surveillance video showed an employee taking the purse, the manager gave Officer Miller the employee’s name and address, and Miller took a victim statement.  Miller told the victim that the employee was clearly identifiable and would be charged with a crime (as the victim told him she wished), and that the case was a “slam dunk.”  However, Miller did not follow up or press charges, and stated in the incident report that the victim did not wish to pursue criminal charges.  Several days later the victim called the Department to follow up.  Another officer took the call, and eventually other officers arrested the employee, who confessed.

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The Appellate Division recently issued a decision exploring the limits of progressive discipline in New Jersey civil service discipline in thepolice-officer-829628_640-300x199 case of Matter of Collins.

Background

Darius Collins was a senior corrections officer at Norther State Prison.  He had been a corrections officer for more than two years and had no prior discipline.  On January 6, 2019, he was the patrolling supervisor of prisoners in a high security unit.  Collins admitted that he left a gate between two floors open.  This allowed two prisoners to leave their tier to take unauthorized showers.  When they got back the contents of their cells had been destroyed.  The prisoners then became out of control and a ten man extraction team was required to get the two inmates back under control.

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The law invests law enforcement officers with significant authority.  New Jersey employment law therefore imposes on them a high standard of conduct. stone-judge-778488-m-thumb-240x320-71245-thumb-220x293-71246-thumb-220x293-71247 And while progressive discipline governs the review of disciplinary infractions, particularly in the civil service context, serious offenses can result in termination even for a first offense.  Sometimes these cases are close calls; some are not.  A New Jersey appeals court recently examined these principles in the case of In the Matter of Ruiz, City of Perth Amboy, Department of Public Safety.  The case is a good examination of some of these legal principles, even though the court found that it wasn’t a close call.

Background

Benjamin Ruiz was police chief for Perth Amboy, New Jersey, a civil service jurisdiction.  After being charged in 2014, he was indicted on February 6, 2015 for official misconduct, theft of services and witness tampering.  He was suspended with pay and required to turn in his badge and gun.  He was acquitted by a jury of all charges on September 20, 2016.

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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.imagesCAWQ89PS

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.

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A recent New Jersey employment law decision in the case of In the Matter of Wilfred Guzman,  Rockaway Township Police Department, examined what penalties are available against a Newpolice-hoboken-train-station Jersey civil service law enforcement officer.

Background

Wilfredo Guzman was a police officer with the Rockaway Township Police Department, a civil service jurisdiction.  Guzman was suspended without pay from April 24, 2017, when he was indicted, until June 19, 2019, when he was served with a Final Notice of Disciplinary Action which terminated him.  The termination was triggered by Officer Guzman’s guilty pleas to two counts of second degree official misconduct.  The Township also fined Officer Guzman the equivalent of 1040 hours worth of pay. Guzman appealed the fine to the New Jersey Office of Administrative Law (“NJOAL”) – New Jersey employment law allows civil service law enforcement officers to skip appeals to the New Jersey Civil Service Commission requesting that the appeal be considered a contested case, and instead file instead directly with the NJOAL.

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Police officer discipline has significant ramifications under New Jersey employment law, whether the officer is in a civil service or non-civil service police department.  These extend beyond the ramifications of discipline for other public and private employees in New Jersey.  Thepolice-1714956__340-300x200 Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court recently examined some of these ramifications in its opinion in the case of Gilbert vs. Warren County Prosecutor.

Background

Jefferey C. Gilbert was a police officer with the Mansfield Township Police Department, a non-civil service jurisdiction.  He settled department disciplinary charges arising from alleged misconduct during a DUI investigation.  Gilbert accepted a six day suspension without pay to resolve all the disciplinary action against him, with the provision that the record of the discipline would remain in his personnel file and could be used as evidence if he received future disciplinary charges for the purposes of progressive discipline.

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A Federal Appeals Court’s recent precedential decision in the case of Gibbs v. City of Pittsburgh may have profound implications for New Jersey civil service appeals from psychological disqualification of law enforcement officer applicants.

Background

Christopher Gibbs applied to be a police officer with the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Police Department.  He was an honorably discharged Marine and had been accepted for employment with five other law enforcement agencies.  Similar to the practice in New Jersey and as required by Pennsylvania state law,  after he was found otherwise qualified Pittsburgh offered Gibbs an offer of employment conditioned upon passing an examination to determine whether he wascop psychologically fit for the job.  Gibbs had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (“ADHD”).  The examining doctor found him unfit because of his ADHD.  The psychologists conducting the examination ignored the fact that Gibbs’s ADHD was under control, that five other departments had found him psychologically fit, that he had unblemished records as a police officer and a Marine, and they never explained how Gibbs’s ADHD would interfere with his ability to perform his duties as a police officer.

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As we have explained here before, the New Jersey Civil Service appeal process gives civil service employees a meaningful avenue for appealing discipline imposed by their government employers.  However, a recent appellate opinion is a good reminder that this meaningful avenue for appeal is a two-way street.police-1714956__340-300x200

The New Jersey Civil Service Appeal Process

When a governmental employer wants to discipline employees with civil service protections, it must first give them a Preliminary Notice of Disciplinary Action (a “PNDA”) listing the charges and specifications against them.  Employee then have the right to elect to have a hearing, and whether they do nor not, when final discipline is imposed, the employer must then give the employee a Final Notice of Disciplinary Action (an “FNDA”).  For major discipline (a fine or suspension of more than five days, or termination), the employee has 20 days to file an appeal.

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The State and Federal Constitutions require that when the government takes action against someone that person must receive due process.  For Civil Service employees, that process is the disciplinary appeals process.  Therefore, in the case of In re Smith, Irvington Township, Department of Public Safety, the Appellate Division ruled that an administrative law judge and the Civil Service Commission could not rely on fact findings in a related but separate criminal trial.  This is an copimportant New Jersey employment law decision, because to meet the constitutional requirements of due process and fundamental fairness, the New Jersey Civil Service disciplinary appeals process must give a meaningful hearing to effected civil service employees.

Monique Smith was a career officer with the Irvington Police Department.  On the day that she was promoted to captain, her boyfriend broke up with her by email.  Captain Smith went to his apartment after the ceremony, and followed him when she saw him leaving in his car.  Smith admitted driving over a center island during her drive.  Smith was charged with eight traffic violations for this drive, including leaving the scene of an accident and reckless driving.  The Department suspended Smith because of the charges.  Based on this incident, Smith was also criminally charged with second degree aggravated assault, fourth degree unlawful possession of a weapon, third degree possession of a weapon for unlawful purposes, and fourth degree criminal mischief.  The aggravated assault was dismissed by the State, and the criminal mischief charge was amended to a disorderly persons offense (a misdemeanor). A jury found Captain Smith not guilty of all the charges.  The trial judge also heard the traffic offenses and found Smith guilty of reckless driving.

Prior to the decision, administrative disciplinary charges were filed against Smith for conduct unbecoming a public employee and five other violations stemming from the same conduct.  A departmental disciplinary hearing was held and a six month working day suspension without pay was imposed.  Smith appealed to the New Jersey Civil Service Commission.  The Commission referred the matter to the Office of Administrative Law (the “OAL”) as a contested case.  An administrative law judge (“ALJ”) held a two day hearing.  The ALJ issued a recommended decision that the charges be upheld but that the penalty be reduced to a ninety day suspension.  The ALJ also recommended that Irvington pay half of Smith’s attorneys fees as she was the prevailing party.  However, the ALJ based her findings not on the evidence produced at the hearing, but rather wholly on the evidence and findings of fact from the criminal trial.  Despite Smith’s exceptions, the Commission adopted the ALJ’s recommended decision, except that the ninety days would be ninety working days and it rejected the award of attorneys fees.

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