The Importance of Being Earnest

Recently Goyette & Associates represented a registered nurse who is a member of the California Correctional Supervisors Association and is employed by the Department of Mental Health. She received a Letter of Reprimand because she authorized treatment of a patient in compliance with the specialized needs of the individual and the practices of her Department. Her administration however, in complete disregard for past practice or medical opinion, chose to find her actions improper and in violation of their interpretation of policy. As a result our client was issued a written reprimand, the lowest form of official disciplinary action that can be given to a state supervisor.

Our client chose to appeal the case and the matter was assigned to G&A attorney, Dan Thompson. Some might ask, “why even bother appealing the lowest form of discipline”? The simple answer is because it was wrong. While certainly one should never pursue legal action simply because of the “principle” of the matter, when disciplinary action is taken against you, if it has been done improperly that’s no reason to take it lying down.

As Dan worked with our client to prepare to defend this case before the State Personnel Board, he discovered a critical flaw in the Department’s case.

The Letter of Reprimand was served on our client the same day it was also noted to be effective. Usually notices of adverse action are served several days to several weeks in advance of the effective date to give the employee time to exercise their rights to due process. In this case however, the Department ignored due process and directly imposed the penalty.

California Government Code 19574(a) requires that “adverse action is only valid of served upon the employee prior to the effective date of the action…”. The Department had clearly disregarded this mandate and had issued the Reprimand in direct violation of the law.

Dan issued a pointed demand to withdraw the action which resulted in an almost immediate withdrawal of the Reprimand from service and a removal of all references to the action in our client’s personnel file. A prior performance evaluation which had given poor marks as a result of the reprimand also had to be modified in our client’s favor.

The lesson: if you feel that action is being taken against you which is improper, scrutinize all of the procedural and legal details to be sure that you are earnestly defending yourself. The best way to do that is to seek expert legal counsel who specialize in the defense of disciplinary actions, such as the labor attorneys at Goyette & Associates.