Petitioner, an employee of the Suffolk County Department of Social Services(Department), applied for the position of Probation Investigator, Spanish Speaking. Pursuant to the Department's guidelines, Petitioner participated in a two-part examination. Having passed the written portion, Petitioner participated in a 15-minute recorded oral examination to determine her proficiency at conversing in Spanish. Using a rating sheet which included various criteria and a ranking scale of one to ten points, the independent examiner determined that Petitioner did not pass the exam.
The Department sent Petitioner a letter informing her that she did not pass the examination and had ten days in which to file an administrative appeal. Petitioner filed such an appeal. The Department denied her appeal, noting that there was no basis on which to find an error in the test or its administration.
Petitioner commenced an article 78 proceeding, claiming that the Department's oral proficiency exam did not meet the requirements of Article V, Section 6 of the New York State Constitution. The Supreme Court dismissed the petition, finding that the administration of the oral examination was not manifestly erroneous. The Appellate Division reversed, finding that the test was overly subjective and gave too much discretion to the administering individual. The Court of Appeals reversed the Appellate Division, finding that the constitutional mandate requiring competitive examinations does not demand total objectivity in evaluation. Qualities such as those tested in the Spanish oral examination (e.g. grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary) cannot be measured by purely objective standards. The Court refused to second guess the format or methods of the examination as long as the test was competitive.
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