Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Reversal of Commission discipline decision upheld: Commission exceeded authority by reducing termination to suspension

The Massachusetts Appeals Court has affirmed a Superior Court judge's ruling that the Civil Service Commission exceeded its authority when it granted the disciplinary appeal of a Maynard police officer and modified his termination to a two-year suspension. The police officer had been charged with violating Department rules when he moved security cameras at the police station and being insubordinate for leaving a meeting concerning an investigation into the camera incident. The Commission, in a 3-2 decision, found just cause for the rule violation, but also found that the charge of insubordination was not supported, and as a result transferred the termination to a two-year suspension. In reversing the Commission's decision, a Superior Court judge noted that since the Commission agreed that the officer could be suspended for two years due to his conduct, it was clear that the town had just cause to terminate him. The Appeals Court agreed with the Superior Court.

The decision is a reminder not to celebrate too early after winning an appeal before the Civil Service Commission. While the Commission's decisions are not overturned as frequently as they once were, courts will still reverse a Commission decision where it has exceeded its authority. In the context of disciplinary appeals, the Commission looks anew at the evidence supporting the discipline but does not perform its task on a completely blank slate. Rather, the Commission views the evidence  in the circumstances that existed when the appointing authority made its decision. In this case, it seems that the Commission did not review the evidence through the proper lens.