Great moments in public employee tenure

New York State has agreed to pay $6 million to settle claims that disabled residents of a Bronx group home for developmentally disabled adults were physically abused and neglected by staff, and the state has also spent a further $5.7 million thus far defending the staff members in court [Benjamin Weiser, New York Times] However, don’t assume that any public employees lost their jobs:

A state investigation later substantiated allegations of misconduct by 13 workers.

But the state failed to fire any of the employees, The New York Times reported in June.

A state arbitration process shielded the workers who had been cited for abuse and neglect. They were typically sent to other jobs in the system.

As part of the settlement, lawyers representing families insisted that the group home be removed from the control of the New York state government. [cross-posted at Cato at Liberty with some additional comments on privatization and accountability]


  • All I can say is, if the Catholic Church is liable for moving priests that committed crimes around then the State of New York—maybe as well as any unions and government departments—should be held as liable.

  • In a country that can prosecute a 12 year old girl for finger guns, surely these employees can be prosecuted?

    The issue is will.

    • As a compromise, they could line the cruel employees up for prosecution, and bargain them free only on condition that they irrevocably renounce their rights to reinstatement, back pay, and everything else in the NY civil service system.

    • No, the issue is that the government is generally reluctant to prosecute its own.

    • Prosecution is not as easy as it seems and as it should be. From another NY Times article on the issue:

      In its Bronx investigation, the center substantiated allegations of physical abuse or neglect against 13 employees, but the state failed to persuade arbitrators to fire any of them. The center and the Bronx district attorney each said recently that they lacked sufficient evidence to bring criminal charges. Ten of the employees still work for the state.

      “Cases involving individuals with special needs are particularly challenging,” the center said in a statement. “Victims may be nonverbal or unable to provide testimony, and witnesses may not be cooperative.”


      In recent months, two former employees of the Bronx facility were so reluctant to be deposed in the lawsuit that a federal judge in Manhattan took the unusual step of having them arrested and brought into court, where they promised to testify.

      The judge, Paul A. Engelmayer, told one witness, Ms. Ruffin, that he had made it clear there was to be no retaliation, adding, “I want you to know that I’ve got your back on that.”

      Another former employee, Michael Robertson, told state investigators that his car window was broken after he reported on a colleague.

      “Ain’t nothing confidential,” Mr. Robertson said, “so people develop a sense to keep their mouth shut, even if they’re angry about what they see.”

      Ms. O’Sullivan, the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities spokeswoman, said the agency was aware of concerns about “potential peer retaliation” and took steps to “change the culture.”

      The Bronx investigation began after Ms. Ruffin sent out letters anonymously — “because I was scared,” she later testified. Her identity was unmasked by investigators through handwriting analysis.


      If New York has the same laws that my state of Florida has, people who witness abuse must report that abuse or face criminal charges. People who would be witnesses are either unable or unwilling to testify. I suppose some sort of immunity could be given, but the fear of retaliation would be powerful no matter what.

      The Times goes on to document that this is not an isolated case and more often than not, despite allegations of proof of abuse, whether to even fire the employee ends up in front of an arbitrator who allows the employee to keep their job.

      Maybe New York should be looking at getting rid of not only the workers, but the contracts that send these cases to arbitrators and the arbitrators who care more about union workers than those they abuse.