Written Reprimand Is Arbitrary and Capricious

Chinh Nguyen is a sergeant in the New Orleans Police Department. One of the job responsibilities of sergeants is to perform a “daily lock” and a certification of the “the book,” which is a part of the payroll system. Nguyen failed to perform these two tasks on September 16, 2009. The Department issued him a written reprimand, and Nguyen challenged the reprimand in the Louisiana Court of Appeals.

The burden of proof Nguyen faced was a high one indeed. Under Louisiana law, Nguyen was required to show that the Department’s disciplinary decision was “arbitrary and capricious.” In spite of this high standard, Nguyen prevailed.

The problem, the Court said, was that the Department failed to provide a resolution to the “dilemma” faced by Nguyen at the conclusion of his work shift: “As a supervisor, he was to perform administrative duties, such as locking the payroll system, and at the same time he was to be available to assess situations such as the hot pursuit to determine if a K-9 unit needed to be requested. Because of the failure of any other supervisor to respond to the scene of the pursuit or the unavailability of any other supervisor, Nguyen proceeded to the hot scene. Had Nguyen proceeded to the station to perform his administrative task and not proceed to the hot scene, he would have been in violation of a far more serious neglect of duty involving public safety, the primary mission of the Police Department.

“Under such circumstances we discern no evidence whatsoever that Nguyen’s technical ‘dereliction’ bore a real and substantial relationship to the efficient operation of the Department. He locked the payroll system the following morning, and there was no interference with the timing of the weekly lock of the payroll system.”

Chinh Nguyen v. Department of Police, 2011 WL 3849906 (La. App. 2011).

This article appears in the November 2011 issue.