On appeal from a Final Administrative Action of the Civil Service Commission, No. 2010-367.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 25, 2011
Before Judges Messano and Yannotti.
Emanuel Amadi appeals from the final decision of the Civil Service Commission (CSC) upholding the decision of respondent, City of Newark (Newark), to remove him from his position as housing development analyst. The matter was tried as a contested case before an administrative law judge (ALJ), whose factual findings were accepted and affirmed by the CSC in its final decision. We recite the testimony before, and the factual findings made by, the ALJ.
Amadi received a permanent appointment to his position in August 2004. He lived with this wife and three children on Elizabeth Avenue in Newark. Amadi claimed to have told "the appropriate staff person . . . of his address change," but the issue was contested by Newark, which "claim[ed] it had ['multiple addresses'] on file." The ALJ determined that Amadi "lived [on] Elizabeth Avenue . . . throughout the relevant period and that [Newark] was properly advised of that address."
Amadi was supervised by Ronald McEachin, with whom he "did not have a good relationship." In the spring of 2009, Amadi's plans to use vacation time to visit his native Nigeria from April 20 through May 18 were approved. His wife and children did not accompany him. It was undisputed that Amadi "did not return to his departmental position until July 20, 2009." As the ALJ succinctly stated: "The reasons for the two-month delay in reporting back to work[,] and whether it can or should be excused by his employer[,] [wa]s at the heart of the present disciplinary matter."
Amadi's visit took him to the city of Owerri, "several hundred miles" from Nigeria's capital. Although he arrived in good health, he claimed he was diagnosed with malaria and admitted to a local hospital around May 10. Amadi and his wife, with whom he had phone contact, attempted to reach McEachin and left messages advising that Amadi would not return to work as planned.
Amadi was discharged from the hospital "on June 16 . . . in a very weak condition," and was subsequently robbed and beaten when he went to a local bank. He was readmitted to the hospital and not released until July 17, after which he flew back to the United States. Amadi claimed that he tried to personally reach McEachin a total of four times, "twice during the first period of hospitalization and twice during the second. Otherwise, he counted on his wife to communicate with [Newark]."
When he returned to his position on July 20, Amadi was unaware that Newark had already terminated him. He brought a "short note from the medical director of the [Nigerian] hospital," and supplied a longer note in September. Both notes indicated that Amadi was hospitalized for bronchial pneumonia from May 10 through June 16, and re-hospitalized on June 21 "due to the assault." The ALJ noted, "[T]hese medical statements contradict [Amadi's] own testimony regarding the timeline of events except with respect to the assault."
Amadi's wife, Pauline Ndzie, testified that she called McEachin and told him of the situation when she found out her husband was sick in Nigeria. She also called when Amadi was robbed and re-hospitalized, and told McEachin that she would not re-book a return flight for her husband until she spoke to his doctor in Nigeria.
The ALJ found as an undisputed fact that Ndzie booked the original travel plans for Amadi, which included a departure date of April 21 and a return date of June 19. Ndzie claimed she always booked a later-than-intended departure date to avoid additional charges if plans changed. Ndzie never received any written correspondence from the City at the family home during Amadi's absence.
McEachin claimed never to have actually spoken to Amadi during the time he was in Nigeria. He received a first voice message on May 18, and a woman, "Pauline," who identified herself as Amadi's "friend," called the same day. She called next on June 4 and reported Amadi's continued hospitalization. McEachin asked for phone numbers to reach Amadi in Nigeria, or, alternatively, that Ndzie ask Amadi to call McEachin during regular work hours. Those requests went unanswered until June 22, when Ndzie called and gave McEachin two phone numbers for Amadi's brother in Nigeria. McEachin acknowledged he never tried to reach Amadi at those numbers.
McEachin kept his supervisor, Michael Meyer, apprised of the situation. On June 9, McEachin sent a letter to Amadi by certified mail advising that "he must return to work by June 15 and bring a ...