Dismissing a veteran Poughkeepsie city employee for drinking a beer and a shot during his lunch break on Christmas Eve 2009 was too harsh a punishment, Supreme Court Justice James Pagones (See Profile) in Dutchess County has decided. He ordered that a new disciplinary hearing be held to determine the penalty for Carleton Peterson, a 19-year city worker who violated the city's alcohol/drug policy, was cited for dereliction of duty and falsely reported his hours on time sheets. In his Aug. 13 ruling, Application of Peterson v. City of Poughkeepsie, 3428/13, Pagones also ordered that city officials calculate the back pay Peterson is due since Sept. 9, 2010, the day he was fired by the city's acting administrator, Police Chief Ronald Knapp.
Knapp followed the recommendation of hearing officer Edmund Caplicki when he dismissed Peterson from his job as a street supervisor. Pagones said that while courts usually avoid interjecting themselves in administrative proceedings, they must do so if the disciplinary sanction is grossly out of proportion to the misconduct. Pagones said the dismissal of Peterson for spending an hour in a bar called Andy's Place on Dec. 24, 2009, was such an instance, especially considering Peterson's otherwise clean disciplinary record.
"This one-hour time frame has now cost petitioner his job and his benefits associated with the position," Pagones wrote. "While this Court recognizes that the petitioner committed a serious infraction, the penalty of termination of his employment is so disproportionate to the offense committed as [to] be shocking to one's sense of fairness."
William Burke of O'Neil & Burke in Poughkeepsie represented Peterson. Howard Protter of Jacobwitz & Gubits of Walden argued for the city.