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New Jersey’s Civil Service Appeals

council-of-state-535721__340Our employment law attorneys represent government employees in New Jersey Civil Service appeals.

One of the most criticized but least understood areas of New Jersey employment law is the Civil Service System.  Employers complain that New Jersey’s Civil Service System makes it too difficult to fire employees who are not carrying their weight.  Employees, especially prospective employees, complain that civil service makes it too difficult to obtain jobs.  However, the Civil Service System is there for an extremely important reason.

New Jersey – gasp – has a history of corruption and political patronage when it comes to awarding government jobs, and while the old civil service system helped, it did not eliminate it.  After the long reign of Frank (“I am the law”) Hague in Jersey City, New Jersey said enough is enough.  It held a constitutional convention, and the New Jersey Constitution of 1947 provided that civil service selections and appointments had to be based on merit, determined by test if possible.  This was to take politics, corruption, nepotism and favoritism out of employment decisions so that merit was the only reason employees obtained or kept their jobs.

New Jersey’s Civil Service System also protects current employees so that they will not be fired for the same impermissible reasons: politics, corruption, nepotism and favoritism.  Toward this end the current Civil Service Act (Title 11A of New Jersey Statutes), and the regulations of New Jersey’s Civil Service Commission (Title 4A of the New Jersey Administrative Code) provide state and local employees with due process rights, the major part of which is the appeal process.

A permanent New Jersey civil service employee cannot be fired except for cause (although she may be laid off for economic reasons).  The permanent employee has due process rights in the event of discipline — the employee must be given notice of the charges against her and the opportunity to defend herself against those charges.  She has the right to appeal discipline, including wrongful termination.  At the local (“appointing authority”) level, this is normally initiated by a form called a “Preliminary Notice of Disciplinary Action” (or a “PNDA”).  This will tell the employee of the charges and specifications, the discipline sought, and that she has the right to a hearing, and explains the procedures for requesting the hearing.   The employee will be able to present an objection and defense to both the charges and the discipline.  A hearing will then be conducted by the employer, after which the charges may be dismissed, reduced or sustained.  If the original or reduced charges are sustained, the employee will receive written notice.  This notice is usually in the form of a Final Notice of Disciplinary Action” (or a “FNDA”).

The FNDA is a “final action” by the appointing authority.  At this point the discipline, whatever the decision and discipline are imposed.  An appeal may be taken.  If the decision is written (it is required to be written, but sometimes this doesn’t happen) an appeal must be within 20 days of the FNDA.  If it is not written then it must be filed within a “reasonable time.”

Appeals are made to the New Jersey Civil Service Commission.  These are generally sent to the Office of Administrative Law (the “OAL”) where an administrative law judge (an “ALJ”) will hold a trial.   Documents and information will be exchanged by each side.  The ALJ will then hold a trial and consider witness testimony and documentary evidence.  The ALJ then makes findings of fact and applies them to the law and makes a recommended decision.  The Civil Service Commission then makes a final determination on that recommendation.  It can overturn the ALJ on legal questions, but it must have significant reason to believe an error was made by the ALJ to overturn the ALJ’s findings of fact.  This is because the ALJ actually saw the witnesses and heard them testify, and the Civil Service Commission does not get that chance.  The Civil Service can uphold or reject the decision, or keep or reduce the punishment.

Either side may then appeal the the Appellate Division of New Jersey’s Superior Court.  The appeal must be filed within 45 days.  These appeals are handled in the same manner as appeals from New Jersey state court decisions.  After the Appellate Division renders its decision, an appeal may be taken to the New Jersey Supreme Court.

                Our attorneys have significant experience in civil service appeals.  You can email us or call (973) 890-0004.  We can help.

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