The Court of Appeals, reversing the Appellate Division, determined section 71 of the Civil Service Law, which provides for the reinstatement of an employee after a one-year absence from work due to an injury, did not apply to petitioner (Jordan), a so-called “labor class” employee of the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA):
Petitioners argue, as they did below, that “employee” is unqualified in the statute and so we should apply that term broadly, consistent with its plain meaning. NYCHA counters that, although “employee” is undefined in the Civil Service Law, section 71 uses terms of art normally not associated with the labor class, including “preferred eligible list” and “grade.” Both are fair points, and therefore to resolve any ambiguity, we turn to the history and the purpose of the statute in resolving this issue.
Our task here is made easier by the fact that we have already articulated section 71’s purpose. Twenty-five years ago, in Allen v Howe, we said that section 71 “w[as] adopted to address the difficult situation created by the prolonged absence of a civil service employee” due to injury (84 NY2d 665, 671 ). Under Civil Service Law § 75, delineated groups of employees “shall not be removed . . . except for incompetency or misconduct after a hearing.” This section left a governmental employer unable to fill a vacancy created by an extended absence due to injury without a “resignation” or the “institut[ion] of disciplinary hearings” (id.). Section 71 was designed to remove the procedural hurdle imposed by section 75 by allowing a “State governmental employer” to terminate an employee without “resort to a disciplinary proceeding” and providing the injured employee a mechanism for later reinstatement (id.).
Including Jordan within the coverage of section 71 would not serve that legislative purpose. As a labor class employee, Jordan was not entitled to a disciplinary hearing before she was terminated and NYCHA did not face the dilemma that led to passage of section 71. Moreover, even if NYCHA was forced to rehire Jordan, she could have been lawfully terminated the next day—”an absurd result that would frustrate the statutory purpose” … . Therefore, we hold that NYCHA did not violate Section 71 when it refused to reinstate Jordan. Matter of Jordan v New York City Hous. Auth., 2019 NY Slip Op 04756, CtApp 5-13-19