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Appeal of Collins

Supreme Court of New Hampshire

June 8, 2018

APPEAL OF NICOLE COLLINS (New Hampshire Personnel Appeals Board)

          Argued: April 19, 2018

          Personnel Appeals Board

          State Employees' Association of New Hampshire, Inc., of Concord (Glenn R. Milner on the brief, and John Krupski orally), for the petitioner.

          Gordon J. MacDonald, attorney general (Jill A. Perlow, assistant attorney general, on the brief and orally), for the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services.

          LYNN, C.J.

         The petitioner, Nicole Collins, appeals the decision of the New Hampshire Personnel Appeals Board (board) upholding the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) decision to dismiss her from employment. We affirm.

         The petitioner began working at HHS in June 2007. She was employed as an administrative supervisor at the time of her dismissal. Prior to her termination, she was given letters of warning in April, October, and November 2015, for failing to meet various work standards and working unauthorized overtime. On April 7, 2016, pursuant to New Hampshire Administrative Rules, Per 1002.08(d) (Per 1002.08(d)), the petitioner attended an "intent to discipline" meeting (meeting) with her regional manager and the chief of operations. At this meeting, the regional manager read from prepared notes outlining evidence, including the precise case files, dates, and instances, that she believed supported a decision to dismiss the petitioner. The petitioner had an opportunity to refute this evidence at the meeting. According to the petitioner, at the meeting, she also requested the documentation that HHS was relying upon in making its decision to terminate her, but HHS did not provide her with the documents at that time. On April 20, HHS issued a letter of dismissal, which included over 100 pages of evidence supporting the decision. The petitioner appealed this decision to the board.

         In her appeal to the board, the petitioner argued that HHS violated Per 1002.08(d) and our decision in Appeal of Boulay, 142 N.H. 626 (1998), when HHS did not provide her with the documents to support its dismissal decision at the meeting. The board conducted a hearing and found that the petitioner's dismissal was lawful. The petitioner filed a motion for rehearing, which the board denied. This appeal followed.

         RSA chapter 541 (2007) governs our review of the board's decisions. Appeal of Alexander, 163 N.H. 397, 400 (2012). Under RSA 541:13, we will not set aside the board's order except for errors of law, unless we are satisfied, by a clear preponderance of the evidence, that it is unjust or unreasonable. RSA 541:13. The board's findings of fact are presumed prima facie lawful and reasonable. Id. In reviewing the board's findings, our task is not to determine whether we would have found differently or to reweigh the evidence, but rather, to determine whether the findings are supported by competent evidence in the record. See In the Matter of Bloomfield, 166 N.H. 475, 478 (2014). We review de novo the board's rulings on issues of law. See Appeal of Alexander, 163 N.H. at 401.

         On appeal, the petitioner argues that HHS failed to comply with Per 1002.08(d) and Appeal of Boulay when it did not give her the documentation, at the meeting, that it relied upon in terminating her employment. Per 1002.08(d) states:

No appointing authority shall dismiss a classified employee under this section until the appointing authority:
(1) Offers to meet with the employee to discuss whatever evidence which the appointing authority believes supports the decision to dismiss the employee;
(2) Offers to provide the employee with an opportunity to refute the evidence presented by the appointing authority provided, however:
a. An employee's failure to respond to a request for a meeting with the appointing authority shall not bar the appointing authority from dismissing an employee pursuant to this part; and b. An employee's refusal to meet with the appointing authority shall not bar the ...

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