Conduct that was the subject of counseling memoranda may be the basis for disciplinary charges subsequently served on the employeeMatter of Board of Educ. of the Dundee Cent. School Dist. v Coleman, 2010 NY Slip Op 51684(U), Decided on October 1, 2010, Supreme Court, Yates County, Judge W. Patrick Falvey [Not selected for publication in the Official Reports] The Board of Education of the Dundee Central School District filed disciplinary charges against Douglas Coleman, a tenured social studies teacher, pursuant to Education Law §3020-a. The Hearing Officer found the Coleman guilty of some of the charges and dismissed others. He imposed a penalty of suspension from all teaching duties without pay, but directed Dundee to continue paying its contributions for Coleman's medical insurance coverage during the period of Coleman's suspension without pay. In accordance with the Hearing Officer's decision, Dundee set Coleman's suspension without pay for the period from June 2, 2010 through February 1, 2011. Dundee then filed a petition pursuant to Article 75 of the Civil Practice Law and Rules [CPLR] asking the court to vacate a portion of the Hearing Officer's decision. Dundee argued that the Hearing Officer "exceeded his power or so imperfectly executed it that a final and definite award upon the subject matter submitted was not made." The two major points advanced by Dundee: 1. The Hearing Officer was incorrect in dismissing certain charges that Dundee filed against Coleman on the theory that the school district had earlier given Coleman "counseling memos concerning the underlying conduct that gave rise to them." 2. The Hearing Officer's determination that the school district must continue to pay employer contributions for Coleman's health insurance coverage during his 6-month suspension without pay was inconsistent with Education Law §3020-a(4)(a), which section, it argued, "necessarily involves a suspension of all payments by Dundee for Coleman's benefit." As to the dismissal of certain of the disciplinary charges filed against Coleman, Judge Falvey said that "There is no support for the premise that if a School District gives a counseling memo in the first instance, rather than immediately proceeding to bring formal charges, that it has somehow waived its right to do so at a future date." Judge Falvey explained that it was clear from case law that a school district is not precluded from including incidents giving rise to counseling memoranda as part of formal charges in a Education Law §3020-a proceeding, citing Hoyt v. Board of Education of the Webuttuck Central School District, 52 NY2d 625 and Cohn v. Board of Education of the City School District of the City of New York, 74 AD3d 57.* In the words of the court: "The gist of the foregoing cases stands for the proposition that teachers are not entitled to have Education Law §3020-a disciplinary protections just because a counseling memo issues. Rather, the courts note that the teachers are given an opportunity to file their written responses to the counseling memos and further action may never be taken against them. However, in the event formal disciplinary proceedings ensue the teachers are entitled to their full panoply of rights and protections under Education Law §3020-a. Clearly, based upon the foregoing case law, it is anticipated that school districts may choose to seek disciplinary charges against teachers based upon the totality of the circumstances the school districts are reviewing." Accordingly, Judge Falvey vacated the Hearing Officer's dismissal of Charge 1, Specifications 1.1, 1.2 and 1.3, as well as Charge 2, Specifications 2.1, 2.2 and 2.3.** With respect to the Hearing Officer directing Dundee to make employer contributions for Coleman's health insurance premiums during the period of his suspension without pay, the court agreed with the school district that "a suspension without pay" pursuant to Education Law §3020-a(4)(a) necessarily involves a suspension of all payments by Dundee for Coleman's benefit." Judge Falvey then vacated the "Hearing Officer's direction that Dundee pay for Coleman's health insurance benefits during his period of suspension," explaining that "The statutory scheme clearly contemplates suspension of all financial benefits upon a suspension without pay." In addition, the court directed Coleman to reimburse Dundee for any such costs already advanced on Coleman's behalf by Dundee and Dundee was "immediately stayed from making any further contributions during the suspension period." Finally, Judge Falvey directed the Hearing Officer to reconsider Specifications 1.1 – 1.3 and 2.1 – 2.3, commenting that in the event the Hearing Officer "finds the aforementioned charges are substantiated, the same may impact the Hearing Officer's determination of the appropriate penalty." In making its ruling, the Court said that Coleman's suspension was to continue in accordance with the Hearing Officer's existing decision, subject to any modification following the Hearing Officer's reconsideration of the matter as directed by the court. Harvey Randall Comments: As to the decision's addressing the payment of health insurance premiums during the period of a disciplinary suspension, such an individual remains an employee while so suspended without pay and may continue in the health insurance plan but if he or she remains in the plan, he or she is required to pay both the employer contribution and the employee contribution while he or she of "off the payroll." Technically, the individual is on "leave without pay" for a period equal in length to the period of suspension without pay imposed as the disciplinary penalty. Although the ruling does not indicate the carrier of the health insurance plan provided by the school district, were it the State's health insurance plan [NYSHIP] 4 NYCRR 73.3(b)(1) would obtain. 4 NYCRR 73.3(b)(1), in pertinent part, provides: An employee on leave without pay … shall be required to pay the entire charge (both employee's and employer's contributions) on account of such coverage for each full pay period of absence …. [emphasis supplied]. Assuming, without deciding, that Dundee is not a participating employer in NYSHIP, the court's directive that Coleman reimburse Dundee for any such costs it already advanced on Coleman's behalf as premiums in a non-NYSHIP plan and staying Dundee from making any further employer contributions for health insurance during Coleman's period of suspension without pay is consistent with the policy set out in 4 NYCRR 73.3(b)(1) with respect to participating employers. With regard to State's dental insurance plan,*** 4 NYCRR 74.3(a) provides as follows: Contributions. (a) Rate of contribution. The rate of contribution of the State on account of the coverage of its employees and their dependents shall be 100 percent of the charge on account of individual coverage and 100 percent of the charge on account of dependent coverage. Notwithstanding the foregoing provisions an employee on leave without pay, whose coverage is continued pursuant to this Part shall be required to pay the entire charge on account of such coverage for each full month of absence [emphasis supplied]. * The undersigned notes that the court also cited "Employment History and Disciplinary Action by Harvey Randall, 2001 No. 2 Pub. Emp. L. Notes 27," in its ruling on this point. ** The matter was remanded to the Hearing Officer to reconsider Specifications 1.1 – 1.3 and 2.1 – 2.3 with the comment that "If the Hearing Officer finds the aforementioned charges are substantiated, the same may impact the Hearing Officer's determination of the appropriate penalty." *** The State's dental plan is available to employees of the State as an employer and to the employees of a public authority, public benefit corporation, or quasi-public organization of the State submitting a certified copy of a resolution of its governing body electing such inclusion to the President of the State Civil Service Commission. The decision is posted on the Internet at: http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2010/2010_51684.htm ============================================ If you are interested in learning more about disciplinary procedures involving public officers and employees, please click here: http://thedisciplinebook.blogspot.com/2009/03/discipline-book.html ============================================ NYPPL
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