Termination during probation

Termination during probationRigney v Nassau Co. CSC, NYS Supreme Court, [Not selected for publication in the Official Reports] The Rigney decision illustrates that individuals who complain that their employer acted in bad faith in terminating them prior to the end of their probationary periods must demonstrate that their probationary performance was otherwise satisfactory in order to prevail. Rigney, a former Nassau County probationary police officer, complained that her supervisor, Sergeant Daniel P. Flanagan, arbitrarily decided that she would not successfully complete her training at the Police Academy. According to her complaint, Sergeant Flanagan told Rigney "that the decision was already made and that it was only a matter of time before she was terminated." Ultimately the Academy's Deputy Inspector, George Gudmundsen, recommended that Rigney be terminated because she had not maintained a 75 percent average, which constituted "unsatisfactory performance during her probationary period including a failure to satisfy the minimum academic criteria" The report also said that Rigney "repeatedly argues with Academy staff members"; "failed simulations training"; and "repeatedly failed to address Academy staff members in [the] prescribed manner." Rigney sued, seeking a court order annulling her dismissal. She contended that her termination was made in bad faith because "Sergeant Flanagan arbitrarily determined that she would be terminated notwithstanding [her attaining] a passing (i.e., 75 percent or higher average) grade." State Supreme Court Justice McCaffrey pointed out that a probationary employee, unlike a tenured public employee, has no property rights in the position and can be discharged without a hearing and without a stated specific reason, provided that: (1) the employee has completed the minimum but not yet served the maximum period of probation, (2) the discharge is in good faith, and (3) the action is not in violation of constitutional, statutory, or decisional law. [See McKee v. Jackson, 152 AD2d 547]. Justice McCaffrey dismissed Rigney's petition, commenting that even assuming that Nassau County had predetermined that Rigney was to be terminated irrespective of her final grade, her unilateral failure to acquire the minimum passing average (75 percent) provided an independent lawful predicate for terminating her employment. Significantly, the employee has the burden of proof in actions challenging his or her dismissal during the probationary period. As the Appellate Division recently stated in dismissing an appeal filed by a former probationer at the Town of Brookhaven, the employee has a burden to present "legal and competent evidence to show a deprivation of his rights, bad faith, or other arbitrary action constituting an abuse of discretion" by the employer [Iannuzzi v Town of Brookhaven, 258 AD2d 651]. In Iannuzzi's case, the Appellate Division said that Iannuzzi's termination "was based upon his unsatisfactory performance and was not arbitrary and capricious, but had a rational basis and was carried out in good faith." NYPPL

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