Minn.: St. Paul Violated Veterans Preference Act in Hiring for Parks Job

By Rosemarie Lally Dec 16, 2014

The city of St. Paul, Minn., violated state law in refusing to give extra points under the Veterans Preference Act to a disabled veteran applying for a park supervisor job, the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs decided.

Brian Balfanz had been employed by the city parks department as a police research analyst from 2001 to 2012, when he applied for one of three open park program supervisor jobs. Balfanz had a 40 percent disability arising from an ankle injury sustained in the Gulf War.

When first posted, the three jobs were open to all applicants. However, after receiving applications from 17 internal candidates, the city changed the examination process from one that was open to the public to an “internal only” process, or “promotional” process, thereby dropping 17 external applicants from consideration.

The city’s action had the effect of denying veterans’ preference points to Balfanz, who qualified for 15 additional points on his job examination score only if the selection process was open to all.

Although Balfanz took the training and oral exams and received a passing score, he failed to qualify for a job interview without the preferential points. Subsequently, his application wasn’t considered by park officials, who hired three other applicants for the positions. Balfanz’s requests for reconsideration of the situation were refused by the park officials and he filed a petition for relief in October 2013.

At an administrative hearing, the city argued that it had not added any veterans’ preference points because the examination was a “promotional examination” and that to qualify for preference points a veteran must have a passing score and receive a USDVA active duty service-connected disability rating of 50 percent or more.

The administrative law judge (ALJ) found that Balfanz was entitled to the extra points, which would have made him the department’s top candidate. The city of St. Paul administered a competitive open examination, not a competitive promotional examination, the ALJ held, because the examination was competitive and eligibility to compete for the examination was extended to all interested persons, not just internal candidates. She noted that the remedy available under the Veterans Preference Act calls for the city to vacate the hiring decisions for the three positions, allow any external candidates who passed the first part of the examination to take the second part of the exam, award veterans’ preference points to Balfanz and any other veterans with a passing score, create a list of candidates in ranked order, and interview candidates based on their ranked order.

The ALJ’s recommendations were adopted Oct. 17 by Veterans Affairs Commissioner Larry Shellito. The city has been directed by the state to remove the three park supervisors from their positions, reopen the hiring process for bidding, and add the 15 preferential points to Balfanz’s final examination score. This action is likely to place Balfanz at the top of the new list of job applicants.

Balfanz v. City of St. Paul, Minnesota Office of Administrative Hearings for the Dep’t of Veterans Affairs, OAH 68-3100-31036 (Oct. 17, 2014).

Rosemarie Lally, J.D., is a freelance legal writer and editor based in Washington, D.C.

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