BY JEREMIAH WATKUHNS
Just days before the Village of Spring Valley was rocked by the arrests of its mayor and deputy mayor on bribery and mail fraud charges, an appeals court ruled that the Village Board of Trustees violated the law in unlawfully firing three employees. The Appellate Division, Second Department unanimously found that Mayor Noramie Jasmine, Deputy Mayor Joseph Desmaret and the remainder of the Village Board violated the rights of three employees fired after the village failed to perform basic ministerial duties.
In Matter of Parks v. Village of Spring Valley, three employees of the Village of Spring Valley filed a lawsuit after they claimed the village violated the law regarding their employment. The employees, Percy Chandler, Michael Lakes and Alex Lanier, Sr. were laborers working in the Spring Valley Department of Public Works.
On August 10, 2010, the village received notification from the Rockland County Department of Personnel that it had no record of receiving filings from the village regarding the employment of the three employees. The filing of any civil servant position with the county is required under New York State Civil Service Law. The notification from the county stated that “persons without approval from [Department of Personnel] must be terminated immediately unless there is a resolution to the situation.”
In essence, the village completely ignored the simple act of filing notification with the county regarding the employment of three people working in its Department of Public Works. Rather than pass a resolution as requested by the County Department of Personnel, the Village of Spring Valley decided to pass a resolution firing the three individuals.
Resolution number 519 of 2010 of the Village Board declared that the three workers “shall be immediately removed from the Village of Spring Valley payroll and informed that they are not employees.” The Village Board voted to remove them from the Village of Spring Valley payroll, effective immediately.
Upon learning of the actual circumstances of how and why they were dismissed, the three employees filed a lawsuit seeking to void the resolution removing them from the village payroll and to compel the village to comply with its ministerial duty under the Civil Service Law to submit the required paperwork to the county and to reinstate them to their positions, with back pay.
In answering the lawsuit, the village argued that it had a right to terminate the employees in the interest of “economy or efficiency.” This argument went nowhere with the appeals court.
The appellate court specifically found that that the “misconception of the [Spring Valley] Village Board was premised upon the village’s own failure to comply with the filing requirements of the Civil Service Law.” Furthermore, the appeals court criticized the village for claiming fiscal economy when the evidence showed that other laborers with less seniority were retained in violation the collective bargaining agreement the village maintained. The village’s actions were considered a subterfuge in avoiding the statutory protections afforded civil servants.
The village was ordered to immediately reinstate the three employees and the matter referred back to the Rockland County Supreme Court for a hearing regarding calculation of the back pay the Village will have to pay the three employees. One can only wonder out loud as to what is actually going on in Spring Valley. Even the most basic function of mailing a form to the County Department of Personnel will wind up costing the taxpayers of the village hundreds of thousands of dollars. Tell us what you think. Log onto www.rocklandtimes.com and leave your comments.