Articles Tagged with New Jersey Civil Service Appeals

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A recent New Jersey employment law decision examined the procedures for reopening a Civil Service disciplinary appeal because of newly discovered evidence.

The Newsom Case

In the case of In the Matter of Kevin Newsom, New Jersey State Prison, Kevin Newsom, a civil service employee, was terminated as a corrections sergeant by the Newdc-court-appeals-district-columbia-building-abraham-lincoln-statue-74985350 Jersey State Prison.

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Background.   New Jersey Civil Service exists remove favoritism, nepotism, politics and other improper considerations from employment decisions.  This includes Civil Service discipline.  Because Civil Service employers are governmental entities, due process and fundamental fairness protections govern discipline.supreme-administrative-court-3565618_960_720-300x200

As far back as 1961, the Appellate Division gave a good summary of Civil Service disciplinary procedures.

Disciplinary proceedings against a civil servant are not only an attempt to determine the status of a particular individual; they are a statutorily authorized action to redress a wrong committed against the people of the State by one in whom the public trust has been officially reposed. The proceedings are therefore penal, or at least quasi-penal, in nature, and deeply embedded constructional principles, supported by fundamental notions of fairness, dictate that in such an action the statute or regulation defining the alleged violation be construed to comport with the fair meaning of the language used. The theme of fairness threads its way through the notice, hearing, and right of appeal provisions of our Civil Service Act, and finds particular pertinence in those sections requiring that the causes for removal constituting ‘just cause’ be enumerated with specificity. The governing consideration, that one be fairly and completely advised of the nature of the charges against him, loses all effectiveness if it is not reinforced by a requirement that the proscribed activities and contingencies warranting disciplinary proceedings be set forth with reasonable particularity and construed accordingly.

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In General. The New Jersey Civil Service Act establishes three classes of civil service employees: Career (or “classified”), unclassified and, in State service, the Senior Executive Service.   The New Jersey Civil Service Commission has the job of classifying positions – it is the positions which are classified, not people. tenure-thumb-170x110-48818

Classification.  Each position in the career and unclassified services are then assigned to a job title by the Commission.  It specifies the qualifications, duties and responsibilities for each title.  It does this through a classification plan for all State government positions and similar plans for political subdivisions.  When necessary, the Commission will modify specifications to ensure their accuracy.  It is also responsible for notifying appointing authorities and employees of changes in classification plans which effect them.

Public employees in New Jersey Civil Service  must be appointed under a title which corresponds to the duties which the employee actually performs.  The employer’s authority to assign terms of office or employment is a limited by the terms of the classification plan. Appointing authorities are required to notify the Commission of new positions, organizational changes, or changes to employee responsibilities; they must annually submit updated organizational charts.  In State service, the negotiations representative (ie., the union) must be given notice of changes to the plan, including: reorganizations of titles or title series, or requests for new ones; request for reevaluation of job content; requests for modification of job specifications; and changes to flextime programs, alternate workweek programs and or hours.

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The Civil Service Commission

The New Jersey Civil Service System is governed by the Civil Service Act and Civil Service Regulations.  Chapter 2 of Title 11A of the Civil Service Act, N.J.S.A. 11A:2-1, et seq., establishes the  New Jersey Civil Service Commission (thestone-judge-778488-m-thumb-240x320-71245-thumb-220x293-71246-thumb-220x293-71247 “Commission”).   The Commission is a department of the executive branch of the New Jersey State Government.  Administratively it is part of the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Nonetheless, it operates as an independent agency.  It is free from control of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

The Commission has five members.  Three members are required for a forum.  This has led to a backlog of cases when less than three have been appointed.

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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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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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Our employment attorneys represent employees in New Jersey Civil Service appeals and disciplinary proceedings.  One frequent matter of contention in the New Jersey Civil Service System is bypassing candidates for selection or promotion under the “Rule of Three.”

The Rule of Three

The New Jersey Civil Service Act requires that hiring and promotion must be based on fitness and merit, determined by competitive Civil Service examinations wherever possible.  After a test, the New Jersey Civil Service Commission will issue a list of eligible candidates ranked in order of their scores.  Hiring and coppromotion must be made according to the eligible candidates’ ranks on the list.  However, an exception exists.  The Rule of Three allows New Jersey Civil Service employers to bypass eligible candidates ranked higher on hiring and promotion lists in favor of lower ranked candidates so long as they select one of the top three eligible candidates remaining on the list.  After each decision to hire or promote, the Rule of Three evaluation begins all over again.  So, for example, if the first candidate is selected, the employer may then select any of the candidates ranked second through fourth for the second spot.

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A main goal of the New Jersey Civil Service Act is to ensure that employment decisions are based on merit and fitness, and therefore to prevent discrimination, political cronyism, corruption and nepotism from being a consideration.  Thus, the Legislature has given civil service office-workers-2-300x200employees the ability to appeal most employer imposed discipline to the New Jersey Civil Service Commission.

Right to Appeal Major Discipline to the New Jersey Civil Service Commission. 

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Hello.

This is Robert Chewning from McLaughlin & Nardi.  I am here today to talk about Civil Service Commission appeals, specifically list bypass appeals.

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