On appeal from a Final Administrative Decision of the Civil Service Commission, Docket No. 2008-563-I.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Reisner and Sabatino.
This appeal arises out of an administrative agency decision of the Merit System Board ("the Board")*fn1 dated May 12, 2008.
Appellant William Boyd, a former employee of the City of Trenton ("the City"), contests the Board's decision, which had imposed upon him a sixty-day suspension from his employment with the City as a penalty for insubordinate conduct. Applying the limited standard of appellate review that governs such administrative cases, we affirm the Board's determination.
The pertinent facts were developed at a hearing in the Office of Administrative Law ("OAL") before Administrative Law Judge Douglas Hurd ("the ALJ"). Appellant was employed as a laborer in the City's water works division for approximately four years. During that time, he was disciplined on multiple occasions before the events in 2007 that precipitated the instant case.
According to appellant, he was traumatized after witnessing a co-worker urinate into a water filtration tank in January 2007. Appellant reported the co-worker's wrongful behavior to management, resulting in the co-worker being disciplined. Appellant contends that he thereafter became anxious, had difficulty concentrating and sleeping, and was unable to work. He consulted a psychologist.
Appellant stopped reporting to work after April 17, 2007. On April 18, his psychologist issued a one-page handwritten note on office stationery, addressed "to whom it may concern." The note stated that the psychologist was treating appellant for generalized anxiety disorder, allegedly resulting from the incident with the co-worker that appellant had witnessed some three months earlier. According to the psychologist, appellant had shown "symptoms of anxiety and worry which are making it impossible for [him] to function at work." The psychologist indicated that he would continue to see appellant twice each week until he returned to his normal level of functioning.
The following day, April 19, the psychologist issued a second handwritten note on his letterhead. This second note stated that appellant had begun treatment that day, despite the fact that the first note of April 18 had stated that treatment had already begun. The second note further stated, without elaboration, that appellant "will need three months to recover from his Generalized Anxiety Disorder and will be ready to return [to work] on July 19, 2007."
Appellant provided his employer with the two notes from the psychologist. He thereafter provided a form dated April 30, 2007, issued by the Hamilton Healthcare Center, which recommended in a conclusory manner that appellant be excused from work from April 30 through May 30, 2007.
The City found appellant's submissions inadequate to substantiate the medical reasons for his absence from work.
Appellant's supervisor sent him a letter, which was hand-delivered to his home. The letter advised appellant that his request for a leave would not be granted, given the brevity of his submissions and the fact that he had not previously complained at work about being traumatized by the co-worker's conduct.
The supervisor's letter pointedly instructed appellant that, in order for his leave request to be further considered, "[he] must produce sufficient medical verification from a qualified health care provider, including all appropriate medical facts regarding the alleged psychological condition, and an explanation why this alleged psychological condition prevents [appellant] from working." (Emphasis in original). The letter further admonished that "[u]ntil then, [appellant is] expected to report to work and any further absences will be considered unauthorized absences and [appellant's] pay will be docked." ...