Articles Tagged with New Jersey civil service attorneys

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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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New Jersey Civil Service law give a hiring preference to “veterans” which ranks them higher on eligible lists if they otherwise meet the eligibility requirements.  This is known as the Civil Service veterans preference.

However, not everyone who is considered a “veteran” by the Federal Government, military, or Veterans Administration is eligible for the civil service veterans preference.No photo description available.  Eligible veterans include only those who received a discharge not characterized as dishonorable and who served at least 90 days in World War I and World War II, or who served at least 14 days in the operations area in the following conflicts: the Korean War; the Vietnam War; the Lebanon Crisis of 1958; the Lebanon peacekeeping mission in the 1980s; the Grenada peacekeeping mission in 1983; the Panama peacekeeping mission; Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm; Operation Northern Watch and Operation Southern Watch; Operation Restore Hope in Somalia; Operations Joint Endeavor and Joint Guard in Bosnia; Operation Uphold Democracy in Haiti (if the veteran received the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal for their Haitian service); Operation Enduring Freedom; and Operation Iraqi Freedom. “Veterans” also include service members receiving injuries in those operations regardless of the length of their service in them.

Disabled veterans” are “veterans” of those conflicts who receive compensation of at least ten percent for a service-connected disability arising out of those defined operations.  Certain spouses and parents are also eligible if the veteran or disabled veteran does not or cannot use the preference.

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New Jersey’s Civil Service System was enacted to keep politics, discrimination, favoritism out of employment decisions.  Therefore, civil service employees may only be disciplined for “just cause.”  The New Jersey and Federal Constitutions require that before any  government body may take action against anyone they must receive due process, which is notice, the right to be heard, and fundamental fairness.  Since government employers, even acting in their role as employers, are still the government, tenure-thumb-170x110-48818 employees must receive due process before they can be disciplined.  The New Jersey Civil Service Act and the Civil Service Commission’s regulations implementing it provide that due process to employees.

Written Notice and the Opportunity for a Hearing 

When a government employer wants to discipline a civil service a permanent, career service employee or an employee in a working test period, it must give the employee written notice of the charges and specifications alleged against her (specifications are a statement of the facts underlying the charges) and the opportunity for a hearing at the employer level by the governmental jurisdiction or its designee.  The employer must hold the hearing within 30 days of the notice unless the employee waives her right it.

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Under the New Jersey public employment law and Title 18A of New Jersey statute, which governs New Jersey employment law for public school and public college employees, if an employee is actually performing the work of a particular position, even though they are designated in another, they must receive the compensation for the job they are working in.  In other words, public employers can’t underpay employeesbully-3233568__340-300x272 by having them fill a higher or more difficult position while paying them for a lower or less difficult one.  The Appellate Division recently examined these statutes.

The De Facto Employee Laws

Title 18A provides that:

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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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Some complain that civil service hinders efficient government.  Managers object that it limits their ability to run their organizations by hiring, firing and imposing discipline as they believe best.  Citizens argue it makes it too hard to get rid of “bad apples.”  Employees believe it makes promotions and transfers too difficult.  Applicants think the system makes it too hard to get hired.  All these criticisms are valid, to a point. megaphone-1480342__340-300x200 However, they miss the mark because they focus on the trees but miss the forest.  Life is a series of tradeoffs; every decision is a cost/benefit analysis.

New Jersey’s Civil Service System was adopted to combat grave problems with state and local government.  New Jersey has a long history of government corruption; it is by no means a new phenomenon.  This history includes a “spoils system” which gave election winners the power to award jobs to their supporters, bribery, favoritism, nepotism, cronyism and discrimination in hiring and keeping government jobs.  It was a disgrace.  New Jersey was – and is – hardly alone in these problems, but New Jersey took it to another level. Without civil service these problems would continue unchecked.  It’s not perfect, but New Jersey is a far better place because of civil service.

In 1908, the early Twentieth Century Progressive Movement led New Jersey to adopt its first civil service laws, and to establish the Civil Service Commission to regulate civil service practices.  Then, in 1947, a constitutional convention was held at Rutgers University, in which a new Constitution was adopted.  The goal of the constitutional convention was to reform many areas of New Jersey’s state and local government.  Article VII, section 1 of the New Jersey Constitution of 1947 provided that:

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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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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 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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