On appeal from the Civil Service Commission, Docket Nos. 2010-162 and 2010-714.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 26, 2011
Before Judges Lihotz and St. John.
Marquita Teel appeals the Final Administrative Action of the Civil Service Commission (the Commission) terminating her employment with the Mercer County Board of Social Services (the Board). The Commission adopted the findings of fact of the Office of Administrative Law (OAL) as presented in the recommendation of the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). In light of the record and applicable law, and following our review of the arguments on appeal, we affirm.
We discern the following facts leading to the administrative determination under review.
Teel was employed as a file clerk by the Board for approximately four years. During that time, she was disciplined on multiple occasions before the events in 2009 that precipitated her discharge. Teel was served with two Final Notices of Disciplinary Action within a two-month period. The first was issued on June 9, 2009, asserting Teel acted insubordinately and engaged in conduct unbecoming an employee, pursuant to N.J.A.C. 4A:2-2.3, based on several incidents occurring between April 27 and April 30, 2009. These charges resulted in Teel's suspension.
The second notice, dated July 23, 2009, pertained to a threatening phone call made by Teel on April 28, 2009, asserting that she engaged in conduct unbecoming an employee pursuant to N.J.A.C. 4A:2-2.3, and violated the provisions of Section 10.4 of the Board's Employee Handbook (Handbook). Additionally, the notice stated Teel violated Section 14.2 of the Handbook regarding "Professional Conduct." A departmental hearing was held on July 16, 2009, and Teel's employment with the Board was terminated.
Teel appealed both notices to the Commission. The cases were sent to the OAL where they were consolidated and heard on May 25, 2010, by ALJ Lisa James-Beavers, who issued an Initial Decision on August 16, 2010.
At the hearing, Teel, several fact witnesses, and representatives of the Board testified. The ALJ heard testimony concerning, among other things, a threat made by Teel, and also an incident which occurred on April 27, 2009, in Trenton's Lamberton Park. Omira Andino, a client of the Board, knew of Teel because Andino's daughter and Teel's son have the same father, Joaquin Ortiz. Andino stated that on April 27, she was at Lamberton Park with her three daughters and Ortiz's mother, Dawn, when Teel approached Andino making threatening remarks. A physical altercation ensued, and Teel "maced" both Andino and her one-year-old daughter. Dawn and Joaquin Ortiz's sister testified and corroborated these events. After the incident, Dawn, Andino, and her children returned to Andino's home. The police were notified and responded, but no report was filed as police stated they were unable to observe what had transpired.
The following day, Andino testified she went to Dawn's home to use the phone because her cell phone was lost during the April 27 encounter with Teel. While Dawn was taking a nap, Andino answered Dawn's phone and recognized Teel's voice, asking to speak with Dawn. Upon realizing Andino had answered, Teel made more threatening remarks. Andino took note of the incoming phone number and called it back. A recording at that number indicated "Social Services Record Room." Later that day, Andino called Board investigator Mark Stillitano, and left a message that Teel called her from the Board's office phone and threatened her.
Michael Danbury, the Supervising Clerk of the Board's records room, testified that he was Teel's supervisor. On April 30, 2009, he witnessed Teel acting very agitated because Teel knew someone had called the Board to complain about her. Danbury overheard Teel using profanity in a conversation with another employee. Danbury stated he instructed her to stop, and she replied that she understood. As he walked away, he heard Teel make a comment that it was okay for him to have conversations, but not for her. Danbury testified he told Teel he would not accept such behavior in the office. Teel acknowledged his reprimand and walked away. Danbury then went to his supervisor, Charmaigne Martel, who spoke to Teel and told her that if she is unable to perform her duties, she should go home. As a result of Danbury speaking to Martel, Teel refused to speak to Danbury. Later that day, Teel was again reprimanded about her attitude towards Danbury and was cited for her behavior. Teel was charged with insubordination and conduct unbecoming a public employee. A six-day suspension was imposed.
Annette Lartigue, Chief of Administrative Services at the Board and supervisor of the records room, testified that the Board took steps to provide Teel with training on several occasions. Teel was also issued the Handbook, which addresses appropriate office behavior both off-site and on-site, as well as phone use, attire, safety and security. It further discusses treatment of clients and co-workers. Anger management training was also available.
Lartigue testified Section 10.4 of the Handbook regulates employees' use of the phone system. The Board's policy states that the office phone is for business use only. Personal calls, if they must be made, must be kept brief and the Board must be reimbursed for them. Section 10.4 reads: "Extensive personal use is grounds for discipline. All employees are expected to conduct themselves ...