Wednesday, August 18, 2010

civil services - removal - just cause

State Board of Probation and Parole v. State Civil Service Commission (Manson)

Commonwealth Court - August 18, 2010

The court affirmed the Commission's decision that the employer Board did not meet its burden of proving just cause for the employee's removal pursuant to section 807 of the Civil Service Act, 71 P.S. §741.807, but did establish just cause for Manson’s suspension under section 803 of the Act, 71 P.S. §741.803. The case involved a missing firearm and an alleged improper relationship with a parolee under Board supervision.

In an appeal challenging the removal of a regular status employee, the appointing authority has the burden of establishing just cause for the personnel action. Mihok v. DPW, 607 A.2d 846 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1992).

To show just cause for the removal of a regular status civil service employee, the appointing authority must demonstrate that the actions resulting in the removal are related to an employee’s job performance and touch in some rational and logical manner upon the employee’s competence and ability. Ellerbee-Pryer v. State Civil Service Commission, 803 A.2d 249 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2002).

What constitutes ample just cause for removal is largely a matter of discretion on the part of the head of the department. However, to be sufficient, the cause should be personal to the employee and such as to render the employee unfit for his or her position, thus making dismissal justifiable and for the good of the service. Woods v. State Civil Service Commission, 590 Pa. 337, 912 A.2d 803 (2006). Whether actions of a civil service employee constitute just cause for removal is a question of law fully reviewable by the court. Ellerbee-Pryer.

The Commission is the sole fact finder in civil service cases and has exclusive authority to assess witness credibility and resolve evidentiary conflicts. Here, the Commission appeared to credit the parolee’s denial of a relationship with the employee, and it it correctly concluded that the evidence presented by the Board was insufficient to establish the employee's knowledge of the person’s status as a parolee.

The Commission properly invoked its authority to modify the Board’s disciplinary action from removal to a thirty-day suspension without back pay or benefits. Section 952(c) of the Civil Service Act, 71 P.S. §741.952(c) (granting the Commission discretion to modify or set aside the disciplinary action of the appointing authority and, where appropriate, order reinstatement with or without payment of salary or wages lost).