Articles Tagged with New Jersey Civil Service Appeals

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit recently issued an opinion interpreting the New Jersey Civil Service Act regarding the reemployment rights of laid off civil service employees.  It probably reached the right decision, but its reasoning was far too broad and may have a negative impact on future cases.

In that case, Tundo vs. County of Passaic, two probationary Passaic County Corrections officers with disciplinary problems were laid off as part of a mass layoff for budgetary reasons.  They had not completed their “working test period” (probationary period) yet.  Thereafter, the County obtained funds and sought to rehire some of the laid off employees.  It therefore contacted the New Jersey Civil Service Commission so that the Commission could create a list from which the County could rehire laid off workers, which the Commission did.  There was dispute about whether the list was a “revived” list – or not whether this was a revived “regular reemployment” list or a revived “open competitive” list was left unclear.  The County challenged the placement of the two laid off officers on the list.  The Civil Service Commission rejected the challenge.  The County therefore had the officers apply for the job, but as part of the application process the County required them to sign a release of their right to sue the County.  They refused to sign and the Civil Service Commission removed their names from the list.  The officers then sued under Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act of 1871, arguing that their due process rights were violated by their removal from the list.  The Third Circuit disagreed, holding that employees do not have a property right to their position on a reemployment list.

The decision was correct in this case because the officers had no right to be on a special reemployment lists.  However, in many cases, other officers do have a legal right to be on employment or remployment list, which would give them a “property interest” triggering due process protections before their governmental employer could remove them.

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New Jersey’s Civil Service System is designed so that government employees are hired based on their merit, not on nepotism, favoritism, cronyism, bribery or political connections. New Jersey’s Civil Service laws and regulations do this by setting up a system where candidates are tested and graded objectively against other applicants. They are then ranked according to their scores and other qualifications, and hired based on their rank. This testing and ranking system is administered by the New Jersey Civil Service Commission (formerly known as the Merit System Board).https://www.newjerseylawyersblog.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/195/2018/07/police-officer-sil.-300x254.png

One of the areas where merit is most critical is in the selection and hiring of law enforcement officers, given the vast powers and responsibilities our society places on their shoulders. As a result, the hiring process is significantly more intense than for the hiring of other civil service employees. In addition to a written test, there are also physical examinations and intense background screening.

All of these screening criteria can – and must be – objectively reviewed. However, one additional area of the law enforcement screening process can allow an examiner’s subjective bias to creep through into the testing results. This area is the psychological screening for candidates for New Jersey law enforcement jobs. Obviously this is a legitimate and important line of inquiry necessary before giving young men and women weapons and the power to arrest people. However, subjective biases can influence an examiner’s reading of the examination results. Continue reading

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pawn-2430046_960_720-300x209 Our employment lawyers represent many honorable New Jersey employees in disputes with their governmental employers.

The Winters Doctrine

As I wrote in a previous post, in 2012 the New Jersey Supreme Court created a serious hurdle for public employees.  In the case of Winters v. North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue, the Supreme Court held that an adjudication by the Civil Service Commission of allegations that a termination was illegal retaliation (even raised tangentially) barred subsequent litigation for violation of New Jersey’s Conscientious Employee Protection Act (known as “CEPA”) based on the same facts in a lawsuit in New Jersey Superior Court.  The Appellate Division of New Jersey’s Superior Court subsequently held that such a bar applied to claims of retaliation raised in disciplinary appeals under both CEPA and New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (known as the “LAD”).

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wheelchair-1595794__340-300x200Under New Jersey’s Civil Service System, hiring and advancement are required to be based on merit.  In a civil service jurisdiction, taking the civil service test is just the first step in the process of obtaining a position as a New Jersey law enforcement officer or firefighter.  After this there will be a background investigation, interview, and physical and psychological examinations.  Under New Jersey civil service regulations a candidate may be rejected if she “Is physically or psychologically unfit to perform effectively the duties of the title.”  (An exception applies when the “an injury incurred in the armed forces… unless the Commissioner [of Civil Service] considers the condition incapacitating.”)

Many times, and for a variety of reasons, perfectly fit candidates fail the psychological examination, which is usually conducted by a mental health professional selected by the agency to which the candidate is applying.  However, the regulations and New Jersey’s Civil Service Act (Title 11A of New Jersey Statutes) provides for an appeal to the New Jersey Civil Service Commission.

To remove an applicant, the department or agency (known as the “appointing authority” or “employer” in the regulations) must request that the Commission remove an otherwise eligible applicant’s name from an eligible list because of her alleged psychological unfitness which purportedly renders her unable to effectively performing the duties of the title.   The request must include “a copy of the certification and a report and recommendation supporting the removal request, prepared and signed by a physician, psychologist or psychiatrist who is licensed in New Jersey or qualified and employed by the appointing authority in the Clinical Psychologist title series.”  It must include “a finding that the eligible is not qualified due to medical or psychological reasons for the title.”  Finally, it must include “All medical, psychiatric, and psychological examinations performed at the appointing authority’s request shall be at the appointing authority’s expense.” The request may be denied for failure to provide the required documentary support.