Reduction of an employees' hours and compensation not always equal to the abolishment of a position for the purposes of §80 of the Civil Service Law

Reduction of an employees' hours and compensation not always equal to the abolishment of a position for the purposes of §80 of the Civil Service Law Matter of Schoonmaker v Capital Region Bd. of Coop. Educ. Servs., 2011 NY Slip Op 00142, Appellate Division, Third Department Karen Schoonmaker was employed full time as a Senior Keyboard Specialist by Capital Region Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES). When Schoonmaker division's workload was reduced, BOCES reduced her hours to 75% of full time and her wages was decreased correspondingly. Alleging that BOCES violated her rights under Civil Service Law §80 by reducing her hours and salary but not reducing the hours of Senior Keyboard Specialists with less seniority, Schoonmaker sued. Holding that BOCES did not violate the statute, Supreme Court dismissed her petition and the Appellate Division sustained the lower court's determination. The Appellate Division explained that BOCES did not violate Civil Service Law §80 when it reduced Schoonmaker's hours, despite her seniority. The issue a question of pure statutory interpretation and as the statutory text is unambiguous, the court was required to give "effect to its plain meaning." §80 of the Civil Service Law, entitled "[s]uspension or demotion," provides that "[w]here, because of economy, consolidation or abolition of functions, curtailment of activities or otherwise, positions in the competitive class are abolished or reduced in rank or salary grade, suspension or demotion . . . among incumbents [in the same governmental jurisdiction] holding the same or similar positions shall be made in the inverse order of original appointment." As Schoonmaker's hours were reduced due to economy, abolition of functions or curtailment of activities, the question becomes whether the reduction in hours and corresponding effect on Schoonmaker's overall income equate to her position being "abolished or reduced in rank or salary grade." The Appellate Division held that in this instance the answer was no. The court explained that while conversion of a full-time position to part time has been considered as an abolition of the full-time position, citing Linney v City of Plattsburgh, 49 AD3d 1020, the local civil service rules in Albany County – which apply to BOCES employees – define part-time employment as a person working 50% or less or earning not more than half of the rate assigned if the position was allocated to a graded salary schedule. Under those rules, said the court, Schoonmaker's position remained full time and was not converted to a part-time position. Hence, concluded the court, her "full-time position" had not been abolished. Also noted by the court that "Had the Legislature intended to require that governmental employers suspend or demote employees in the inverse order of appointment when a position was "abolished or reduced in rank[,] salary grade" or hours, those additional words could have been included in the statute." However, when the Legislature attempted to add to the statute by requiring inverse-seniority demotion or suspension when an employer reduced its employees' work hours, the Governor vetoed the bill (see 2003 NY Assembly Bill 8399). Rejecting Schoonmaker's policy arguments that its decision will create a slippery slope, allowing governmental entities to reduce a senior employee's hours as punishment or to benefit favored less-senior employees, the Appellate Division pointed out that public employees in New York "are currently protected by the law and may bring an action against an employer if they suffer adverse employment actions based upon decisions rendered in bad faith." The decision is posted on the Internet at: http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2011/2011_00142.htm

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