Monday, December 29, 2014

Commission grants bypass appeal (and hell doesn't freeze over)

For the past several years, the Civil Service Commission has granted bypass appeals only when it has found that cronyism affected the selection process or, in a rarer circumstance, that the investigation into the bypassed candidate by the appointing authority was clearly insufficient. This month, however, the Commission  granted the appeal of a bypassed Braintree police candidate based on the lack of a reasonable justification for the decision. In Morris v. Braintree Police Department, the City of Braintree bypassed a black candidate in favor of five white candidates based primarily on his interview performance. Mr. Morris had interviewed twice for appointment and both times not selected based on his interview, although the first non-appointment was not a bypass since no one lower than him was apparently appointed. The Commission found that Mr. Morris's bypass resulted from an unfairly subjective review of his two interviews and granted the appeal.

As the Commission found, the interview panel did not take notes or score either interview based on a uniform criteria, but discussed Mr. Morris's performance weeks after the interviews to arrive at a uniform assessment. Moreover, the Commission, which had an audio recording of each interview, found that many of the observations by the panel about Mr. Morris's performance were simply wrong. The Commission also faulted Braintree for focusing solely on its subjective assessment of Mr. Morris's interview performance when it also had objective evidence of his long, unblemished career in law enforcement. In this regard, the Commission found that the bypass was not the result of the required "thorough review" needed to support a bypass decision.

The Morris decision is an encouraging development for bypassed civil service candidates. Far too many candidates, in this attorney's experience, are bypassed based on subjective assessments from interviews and background investigations. Hopefully this decision indicates that the Commission is prepared to scrutinize bypass decisions when based on such subjective assessments more carefully going forward. 

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