On appeal from a Final Administrative Decision of the New Jersey Civil Service Commission, Docket No. 2009-1067.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Sabatino and Ashrafi.
Appellant Janice Cloyd appeals from a final decision of the Civil Service Commission upholding her termination as an employee of Trenton Psychiatric Hospital. We affirm.
The New Jersey Department of Human Services filed disciplinary charges against Cloyd in February 2008 for conduct unbecoming a public employee under N.J.A.C. 4A:2-2.3a(6), alleging that she violated administrative orders by physically abusing a patient and by making inappropriate physical contact with the patient. After the charges were sustained in a departmental hearing, Cloyd appealed the agency's decision that she be removed from her employment. Her case was heard by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) in February 2009.
The ALJ issued a written decision concluding that Cloyd had not abused the patient but that her conduct included inappropriate physical contact. Because of Cloyd's prior history of disciplinary actions, the ALJ recommended that the sanction of termination be affirmed. The Civil Service Commission followed the ALJ's recommendation and affirmed Cloyd's termination by written decision dated April 17, 2009.
The facts developed at the administrative law hearing established that Cloyd was employed as a Human Services Technician (HST) at the Trenton Psychiatric Hospital since 1996. Her duties included patient care on a unit of the hospital with female patients, including T.T., a young patient who had a history of aggressive and angry behavior toward other patients and hospital staff. Hospital policy required that all patients leave their bedrooms in the morning as part of their daily activities and therapy, but staff had difficulty getting T.T. out of bed and out of her bedroom.
On the morning of November 16, 2007, Cloyd was making rounds to get patients out of bed. T.T. was in a bedroom that she shared with other patients. A member of the hospital staff, Tia Johnson, was assigned that morning to be a one-on-one aide for T.T. and was in the bedroom. Johnson told Cloyd that she was having difficulty getting T.T. out of bed. As Cloyd entered the bedroom and told T.T. to get up, T.T. jumped out of her bed, took a fighting stance, and said that she wanted to fight Cloyd and get her fired.
Accounts differ about what happened next, but what occurred outside the bedroom was visually captured on surveillance videotapes of the hospital. According to Cloyd, she was trying to calm T.T. down verbally but T.T. was attacking her and challenging her to a fight. Cloyd claimed that T.T. hung onto her and would not let go. In her statement to hospital staff, T.T. said that Cloyd pulled her out of bed by her leg and pushed her into the dayroom. Cloyd and Johnson, however, denied that Cloyd had pulled T.T. out of bed, and Cloyd claimed that her hands were in contact with T.T. only to protect herself against T.T.'s attempts to strike or push her.
As captured by the surveillance cameras outside the bedroom, which did not include sound recording, the incident included about five seconds of physical contact between T.T. and Cloyd. The ALJ made the following findings about the relevant content of the video evidence:
Camera 1 of the video showed the hallway and T.T.'s bedroom at the end of the hallway on the left side. Camera 2 showed the dayroom. Camera 1 showed T.T. and the appellant exiting the bedroom. Appellant's hands were on T.T. pulling her out of the room toward the dayroom. T.T.'s hands appeared to be on appellant's wrist.
Camera 2 showed HST Johnson watching as the appellant constantly kept her hands on T.T. and pushed her backward. After being pushed into the dayroom, T.T. lunged forward toward the appellant who slightly pushed her away and T.T. tripped over another patient sitting on the couch. The appellant had her hands up defending herself and T.T. looked like she may have taken a swing at her and then ran away. [(Citations to the video exhibit omitted.)]
A Quality Assurance Specialist and a Program Coordinator for the hospital testified about hospital policies and rules concerning treatment of patients. Neither had been present during the incident, and both relied on the videotape and witness statements to conclude that Cloyd had violated administrative orders of the hospital pertaining to treatment of patients. The hospital had a "hands-off" policy, and staff were trained to de-escalate confrontations verbally and to separate themselves from patients who were physically threatening or aggressive or to ...