January 11, 2011
IN THE MATTER OF THE TOWNSHIP OF IRVINGTON 2008 LAYOFFS.
On appeal from a Final Agency Decision of the Civil Service Commission, Docket No. 2008-4998.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued January 4, 2011 - Decided
Before Judges Graves and Messano.
Jacqueline Andrews (Andrews) is a former employee of the Township of Irvington (the Township). She appeals from a final administrative decision of the Civil Service Commission (the Commission), which accepted and adopted the findings and conclusions contained in the initial decision of the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). The Commission determined that the decision by the Township to layoff certain employees, including Andrews, was justified for reasons of economy and efficiency. We affirm.
Four witnesses testified at the administrative hearing on March 16, 2010: Wayne Bradley; the business administrator for the Township; Faheem Ra'Oof, the Township's chief fiscal officer; Leslie Daley, a certified public accountant; and Andrews. The ALJ's findings and credibility assessments of the witnesses were as follows:
Mr. Bradley's testimony was straight forward and credible. "Economy and Efficiency" were the reasons for the layoffs. According to Mr. Bradley, a 12 million dollar deficit was reduced to 6 million dollars as a result of the Township of Irvington receiving State Aid and grant funds along with the sale of a hospital. Mr. Bradley also confirmed that in addition to the six permanent employees who were laid off that action was preceded by the termination of seven provisional employees.
Mr. Bradley testified that the only reason for the layoff of Ms. Andrews and the other employees was to close the financial gap initially proposed in the budget.
The next witness to testify was [F]aheem Ra'Oof, the Director of Finance for the Township of Irvington.
Mr. Ra'Oof confirmed that there was a $6 million dollar deficit to be closed and the only way to reduce the deficit was to either increase revenues or decrease costs.
One of the ways that costs were reduced was by laying off employees.
Mr. Ra'Oof confirmed that there was a budget surplus at the end of 2007 in an amount that could be used in the upcoming budget of $588,000. Despite this surplus, Mr. Ra'Oof confirmed [a] $6 million dollar gap between revenues and expenses that were about to be submitted to the Township and confirmed that the gap was closed by exercising efficiencies, one of them being the layoff of employees. Although the savings for the fiscal year of 2007/2008 only amounted to $20,000 (approximately) because by [the] time the layoff actually took effect, there was only three weeks left in the fiscal year, the savings for the following year would have been in excess of $300,000 (approximate).
Mr. Ra'Oof confirmed that the layoffs were not aimed at any specific employee, but rather were utilized to balance the budget.
Testifying on behalf of Jacqueline Andrews was Leslie Daley, a CPA in private practice. Mr. Daley's primary function was to assist Ms. Andrews in her examination of the witnesses at the hearing and offered little by way of evidential testimony to fortify Ms. Andrew's contention that the layoffs of the Township were pretextual and only meant to terminate her. Mr. Daley did not have an opportunity to review a full budget from either 2007 or 2008. He offered conjecture masked as professional opinion that going from a surplus in 2007 to a deficit in 2008 in the amounts previously indicated was hard to understand.
Ms. Andrews testified on her own behalf and indicated that she believed there were other ways that the Township of Irvington could have balanced their budget other than laying off employees. She indicated that the five other employees who were laid off at the same time she was were only laid off to disguise the fact that she was the target.
As the ALJ noted, "Andrews disputed the financial aspects of the Township's basis for the layoffs." Nevertheless, the ALJ concluded, "there was nothing of an evidentiary nature to substantiate the general proposition advanced by Ms. Andrews that the claim of 'economy and efficiency' was pretextual."
Our role in reviewing the decisions of administrative agencies is limited. Generally, "an appellate court will reverse the decision of the administrative agency only if it is arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable or it is not supported by substantial credible evidence in the record as a whole." Henry v. Rahway State Prison, 81 N.J. 571, 579-80 (1980). In this case, based on our independent review of the record, we conclude that the findings of fact by the ALJ, which were accepted and adopted by the Commission, are supported by substantial credible evidence. Furthermore, we are satisfied the matter was correctly decided. See DiMattia v. N.J. Merit Sys. Bd., 325 N.J. Super. 368, 374 (App. Div. 1999) (noting that a public employer "may take layoff action and demotions in connection with a budgeting decision where the interest of economy and efficiency require it").
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