By Chris Mincher
Of counsel, McAllister, DeTar, Showalter & Walker
As we are all fully aware, unreported opinions can’t be cited in any way, shape, or form in Maryland courts, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t useful to keep on top of. For one, they can offer a lot of practical guidance on handling frequent, not-particularly-earth-shattering issues that come up in a practice. Specifically for governments, unreported opinions capture a lot of administrative appeals of routine decisions — especially in the personnel context.
Take, for example, a government’s reclassification of a position. Sometimes the employee is happy when that happens, sometimes not. In the Matter of Parviz Izadjoo, App. Ct. of Md., Sept. Term 2021, No. 1795 (January 20, 2023), is an instance of the latter, after the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission Merit Systems Board changed Mr. Izadjoo’s job from “building maintenance supervisor” to “senior construction representative,” which didn’t come with a salary bump.
Mr. Izadjoo was hoping for “construction representative supervisor” and an accompanying raise. He appealed the decision up the ladder to the Appellate Court of Maryland, which appropriately reviewed the matter with a great deal of deference to the agency. Without getting into the weeds of the case — they are not particularly interesting weeds — and the Court’s affirmance of the rulings below, the opinion still lays out some helpful things a government entity should keep in mind when reclassifying positions so the choices will be left undisturbed.
First, there should be a robust process in place for handling reclassification requests. Here, the Board had an entire scheme of applicable rules and regulations that set clear expectations for the employees and made it easy for the Court to check that procedures were properly followed. Reclassification requests are reviewed first by the department head and then submitted to the human resources director for a decision. An employee dissatisfied with the result can appeal to the Board for a final, binding decision.
The agency also demonstrated thorough fact-gathering as part of the process. Mr. Izadjoo completed a “job analysis questionnaire” that the Board considered along with his personnel file. The Board also compared the specifications of the different positions and completed a full audit of Mr. Izadjoo’s duties with him, his immediate supervisor, and his division chief. At the end of the day, there was nothing arbitrary, illegal, or capricious about the reclassification, so Mr. Izadjoo lost.
The takeaway? Before a government reclassifies positions, it should have a thorough system in place for resolving disagreements, and collect and consider all the relevant information from the employee and supervisors. If those steps are followed, there won’t be room for reversal on administrative review.