Repeated Warnings And Suspensions Satisfy Progressive Discipline Obligation

In the five-and-a-half-year period between August 1997 and March 2003, Geraldine Sims, a corrections officer with Monmouth County, New Jersey, received eight disciplinary charges for taking excessive sick leave, abuse of her sick leave, and/or refusing to work compulsory overtime. Sims had a practice of taking sick days immediately prior and immediately after the days upon which she was scheduled to be off. These charges resulted in various forms of discipline, including reprimands, fines, and suspensions.

Eventually, the County had enough and terminated Sims. She challenged her termination through the State of New Jersey’s Merit System Board. When the Board upheld her termination, Sims appealed to the court system, arguing that she had not been progressively disciplined.

An appeals court disagreed. The Court found that “given Sims’ disciplinary history, her termination does not violate the concept of progressive discipline. Progressive discipline does not require specific penalties depending upon an employee’s prior history; rather, it merely allows an employer to look to that prior history as a factor in settling upon the appropriate penalty. Habitual lateness alone may warrant an employee’s termination where the employee has received warnings. With every notice of major discipline Sims received, she also received the following warning: ‘Please be advised that this or other unacceptable behavior will result in stronger disciplinary action being recommended up to recommending your separation from employment.’ We are unable to characterize as arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable the Board’s conclusion that the employer satisfied the principle of progressive discipline.”

In the matter of Geraldine Sims, 2007 WL 4165365 (N.J. Super. A.D. 2007).

This article appears in the January 2008 issue