The Fourth Department, reversing Supreme Court, determined petitioner’s employer (NYS Department of Transportation [DOT}]) should not have been held in contempt for the alleged failure to quickly restore petitioner to the payroll and provide backpay because DOT had fulfilled those directives by the time the contempt hearing was held:
… [W]e conclude that the court erred in granting that part of petitioner’s motion seeking to have the DOT respondents adjudged in contempt of the October 2015 judgment. “A finding of civil contempt must be supported by four elements: (1) a lawful order of the court, clearly expressing an unequivocal mandate, was in effect; (2) [i]t must appear, with reasonable certainty, that the order has been disobeyed; (3) the party to be held in contempt must have had knowledge of the court’s order, although it is not necessary that the order actually have been served upon the party; and (4) prejudice to the right of a party to the litigation must be demonstrated” … . A movant seeking a contempt order bears the burden of establishing the foregoing elements by clear and convincing evidence … . We review a court’s ruling on a contempt motion for an abuse of discretion … .
Here, we conclude that petitioner failed to show by clear and convincing evidence that the failure of the DOT respondents to immediately comply with the directives of the October 2015 judgment ” defeat[ed], impair[ed], impede[d] or prejudice[d]’ ” petitioner’s rights … . We are mindful that “[a]ny penalty imposed [for a civil contempt] is designed not to punish but, rather, to compensate the injured private party or to coerce compliance with the court’s mandate or both” … . By the time the court conducted the hearing on petitioner’s contempt motion, it was undisputed that she had been restored to the payroll, was receiving payment, and had been awarded back pay for the time she was wrongly suspended without pay. Thus, the goals of civil contempt would not be furthered by granting petitioner’s motion absent any prejudice to her once the relevant DOT respondents complied with the directives of the October 2015 judgment and restored her to paid status. Matter of Mundell v New York State Dept. of Transp., 2020 NY Slip Op 04099, Fourth Dept 7-17-20