The Superior Court of New Jersey Appellate Division affirmed a prior ruling to fire a Hudson County corrections officer for a failed drug test back on August 16th, 2018.
Latera Griffin had worked for the Hudson County Department of Corrections for about 13 years before the state Attorney General’s Office issued a new directive in March 2018 that mandated two urine samples in order to employee’s to challenge a failed test by having the second sample tested at an independent lab.
The county’s policy, first implemented on November 19th, 2011, indicated that a second urine sample could be submitted, but could also sign a waiver to decline this option.
“Contrary to both the AG’s Drug Testing policy and HCDC’s Drug-Free Workplace policy, Griffin provided only a single urine sample and did not sign a waiver of her option to provide a second sample. As noted, Griffin’s urine sample tested positive for a cocaine metabolite,” Appellate Court Judges Michael J. Haas and Arnold L. Natali, Jr. wrote.
“HCDC issued a preliminary notice of disciplinary action and charged Griffin with: conduct unbecoming a public employee … neglect of duty .. and other sufficient cause. After a departmental hearing, HCDC terminated Griffin from her position and entered a final notice of disciplinary action (FNDA). Griffin appealed the FNDA and the matter was transferred to the Office of Administrative Law as a contested case.”
Griffin lost her appeal there and took the case to New Jersey Civil Service Commission, who upheld the determination by the administrative law judge.
“After an independent evaluation of the record, including Griffin’s supplemental exceptions, the CSC accepted and adopted the ALJ’s factual findings, legal conclusions, and penalty in a September 22, 2021 order,” the appellate court explained.
“The CSC also rejected Griffin’s ‘renewed arguments pertaining to the issues presented in the interlocutory review request’ as well as her ‘argument that the ALJ should have been recused.’ This appeal followed.”
Griffin contends that her due process was denied by the department of corrections for not following the AG’s drug testing guidelines to a tee, which would’ve mandated a second urine sample.
While the appellate court concurs that the HCDOC violated the policy, that does not necessarily entitle Griffin to relief in this scenario.
“We are satisfied HCDC’s technical deviations from the AG’s Drug Testing policy did not deprive Griffin of her due process rights or render the testing process fundamentally flawed,” the judges wrote.
“As noted, the ALJ determined, based on the testimony adduced at the evidentiary hearing and her credibility findings, that Detective Diaz fully informed Griffin of her option to provide a second sample, she knew providing a second sample was her only avenue to challenge a positive test result, and she nevertheless refused to provide a split sample. The ALJ’s conclusions were fully supported by the testimony of HCDC’s witnesses, particularly Detective Diaz.”
They continued that Griffin at no point challenged the validity of the results, the efficacy of the testing procedures, of the chain of custody of the sample, and therefore, the department of corrections’ deviation from the AG policy did not undermine the process.
” … We are satisfied any prejudice was self-inflicted and resulted from Griffin’s own refusal to submit a second sample,” the court determined.
“Indeed, the fact Griffin refused to provide a second sample after being informed of her right undermines her due process challenge and validates the urine collection process, notwithstanding HCDC’s deviation from the collection procedures mandated with the AG’s Drug Testing policy.”