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Brady v. Department of Personnel

April 19, 1996


On appeal from a Final Decision of the Merit System Board.

Approved for Publication April 19, 1996.

Before Judges Long and Brochin. The opinion of the court was delivered by Brochin, J.A.D.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Brochin

The opinion of the court was delivered by BROCHIN, J.A.D.

Appellant James T. Brady, a police sergeant in the Atlantic City Police Department, took a civil service competitive examination for the position of police captain. The written part of the examination, referred to as the "in-basket" portion, consisted of problems arising from factual situations typical of those likely to confront a police captain. The examination required the examinee to assume that all of the situations arose during a single tour of duty. The problems were presented in the form of background information and communications of the sort which a police captain could expect to find in his "in-basket." The answers were graded according to what they showed of the various qualities and capacities expected of a police captain. The Department of Personnel refers to these qualities and capacities which the examination was designed to reveal as "dimensions." Sergeant Brady passed the examination, but he was dissatisfied with the evaluations that his answers received for the qualities of analysis, judgment, delegation, leadership, community sensitivity, and management control. He therefore undertook to appeal his examination score pursuant to N.J.S.A. 11A:4-1(e) and N.J.A.C. 4A:4-6.4.

To enable him to pursue his appeal, Sergeant Brady needed access to the questions, answers, and grader's comments. In accordance with the Department's published "Examination Review Policy for the Police Promotional Assessment Process, Fall 1992," he was permitted to review his "own responses to the examination . . ., the examination instructions and the scores [he] achieved on each dimension for each examination exercise, along with a brief descriptive statement of [his] performance on each dimension." He was also given "a summary sheet which describes how [his] total score was computed" and a synopsis of the problems which appeared on the examination, but not the problems themselves. He was allotted one hour to review these materials. He took notes, as he was permitted to do, but he was not permitted to remove the synopsis of the questions, his answers, or the assessor's comments from the room where he examined them.

Sergeant Brady's first level appeal was to the Supervisor of the Selection Appeals Unit of the Department of Personnel. After completing the permitted review of the test materials, he wrote a letter stating his disagreements with the grader's scoring of his answers to the examination. He referred to each "dimension" whose grading he disputed and explained why, in his opinion, his answer had exhibited the quality which the grader found lacking. His letter and his brief on appeal imply that he attempted to refute every adverse comment of the grader that had been communicated to him.

Sergeant Brady's letter is dated September 15, 1993. It was answered by a letter dated May 31, 1994 from the Supervisor of the Selection Appeals Unit. She introduced her letter by assuring Sergeant Brady:

I understand that the issues you raise are important and may very well have a big impact on your future. Therefore, my staff and I have thoroughly reviewed your letter and also all our related material. Below, you will find the details concerning this review as well as my findings.

She explained that the grader's evaluation of his examination for each of the qualities for which a grade was given was based on an evaluation of the answer to every problem and that the graders "looked for a pattern of behavior across all items to evaluate each dimension. Therefore, an item by item rationale is not warranted." The Supervisor then gave examples for each of the "dimensions" which she said substantiated the original grader's evaluation that a particular quality was lacking to an extent that adversely affected the grade. Sergeant Brady claims that the instances cited by the Supervisor as examples of his inadequacies are different from those referred to in the materials which he was permitted to review. We are not in a position to determine the accuracy of this contention from the materials submitted to us.

The Supervisor's Conclusion was:

In reply to your appeal of the scoring of your in-basket examination, a review of your in-basket dimension scores revealed that in each case, significant opportunities to demonstrate behaviors associated with specific dimensions were missed. As stated previously, these possible courses of action were generated by a panel of subject matter experts consisting of senior command personnel from police departments. After reviewing your responses in light of the guidelines and parameters established, we conclude that your assigned scores are accurate.

The following advice communicated to Sergeant Brady in the Supervisor's letter is pertinent to one of the grounds of his appeal:

Please be advised that in accordance with Department of Personnel Rules, specifically N.J.A.C. 4A:4-6.6(o), you may appeal this decision to the Merit System Board within twenty days of receipt of this letter. Please note that the Board will only consider the proofs, arguments and issues presented at the previous level of appeal. No new or additional proofs, arguments or issues will be considered at the next level of appeal. In your letter ...

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