Transit Authority V. Wong

Transit Authority V. Wong


Transit Authority v. Wong

OATH Index No. 1866/08 (Aug. 28, 2008)

Petitioner sought termination for respondent charged with incompetence and misconduct. Judge found respondent incapable of performing tasks appropriate for his title of Computer Specialist II. Demotion recommended.




In the Matter of



- against -





KARA J. MILLER, Administrative Law Judge

This is a disciplinary proceeding referred by petitioner, the Transit Authority, pursuant to section 75 of the Civil Service Law. The charges allege that respondent Sze Tung "Tony" Wong, a Computer Specialist II, is unable to perform tasks appropriate to his position and title, refused to report for a scheduled assignment, was uncooperative and argumentative with a bus depot employee, and delayed the performance of an assignment between January and December 2007[1] (ALJ Ex. 2).

Following a two-day hearing on the charges, I find respondent guilty of incompetence. The misconduct allegations, however, should be dismissed. I recommend that respondent be demoted.


Respondent is charged with incompetence and misconduct, specifically, being unable to locate report files in the shared data library, being unable to satisfactorily complete a variety of basic Oracle-related assignments, including the Data Stream 7 and Executive Dashboard projects, being unable to complete an analysis of error log data, refusing to participate in the pre-scheduled coverage for the roll-out of the MIDAS 2000 software program at the Flatbush Depot, initially resisting and then purposely delaying a work assignment, and being stubborn, uncooperative and confrontational during the roll-out of the MIDAS 2000 program at the Jackie Gleason depot between January and December 2007 (ALJ Ex. 2).

Respondent has worked for the City of New York since 1988 and has been employed by petitioner since 1999. In 2005, respondent, a Computer Specialist II, was transferred to the Authority's Transportation Applications division. William Fortunato, Senior Director of Technology Information Systems ("TIS"), was interested in having respondent join this division because of his education and experience. Respondent's resume indicated that in addition to over ten years of professional experience as an application developer and database administrator, he was well versed in Oracle, as well as several other computer applications used by TIS. Indeed, respondent maintained that he was an Oracle consultant, had a "master certificate in Oracle 8 Application Developer," and had been trained for Oracle database administration (Pet. Ex. 3; Tr. 17, 19-20).

According to Mr. Fortunato, from September 2005 through March 2006, respondent was assigned to work with Tom Persaud, handling technical support. Respondent had difficulty performing the tasks assigned to him by Mr. Persaud, and as a result, in March 2006, he was transferred to Joseph Civinski's group, working on the Citrix Pilot for RSMIS. Respondent, however, had trouble understanding the work Mr. Civinski assigned to him. Following a one-month vacation, respondent was transferred back to Mr. Persaud's department in November 2006, to work as a System Administrator for the RSMIS project. Respondent remained in Mr. Persaud's Department for approximately two months. In January 2007, respondent was assigned to work with Joseph Kocovic to assist in the roll-out of Spear software to the Department of Buses. Sometime between February and March 2007, respondent was reassigned to work with Mr. Persaud for approximately three months. In May 2007, respondent was once again assigned to work with Mr. Kocovic, assisting with the software roll-out to the Department of Buses. In July 2007, respondent was transferred to Bus Maintenance Support, where he worked with Kumphol Khaopravetch until November 2007. Respondent was unable to complete several key assignments for Bus Maintenance Support, which resulted in a reassignment back to Mr. Persaud's Department (Pet. Ex. 6; Tr. 20, 22-25, 120). It appears that respondent was bounced around from one Department to another in an effort to find a good fit because of his inability to properly perform various assignments.

The charges against respondent stem from a series of events that occurred over a year-long period, January through December 2007. For the sake of clarity, the charges will be grouped by category as either incompetence or misconduct, and discussed individually.


Inability to Locate Report Files in Shared Library

Respondent was charged with being unable to locate report files in the shared computer library on March 15, 2007, while under Thomas Persaud's supervision. At the time in question, respondent was designated as the acting system administrator for the RSMIS computer application, because the full-time system administrator was out of the office. Joan Fine, a project manager, had requested that changes be made to several reports. Before any changes could be made, however, the reports had to be found in the database. Some of the reports had been changed several times and other versions were still available in the shared library. Consequently, the developer working with Ms. Fine asked respondent to forward the latest package, so that he would not be working with an outdated version of the reports (Pet. Ex. 18; Tr. 132, 134).

In order to comply with this request, respondent needed to search through the library to identify the latest package and identify its location. Once the package was retrieved, respondent should have looked at all of the files associated with the report in question. He needed to determine which report was the latest version and ensure that the report was not currently in production or being changed by another user (Pet. Ex. 17; Tr. 129-30, 133-35).

When the system was introduced in 2000, the files were simply identified by a six digit date. Over time, as more developers started working on the reports, the naming convention was changed. As reports were altered, the previous version was kept in the package in case it was necessary to view the evolution of the report (Tr. 132-33, 136, 140).

Mr. Persaud received an e-mail from Ms. Fine asking him to assist respondent in finding the reports she had requested because respondent was having trouble locating them. Mr. Persaud testified that he spoke to respondent, recommending that he search the entire system by using Windows Explorer, in a manner similar to looking for a word processing document in Microsoft Word. Mr. Persaud told respondent if he could not locate the document in the shared library, he would have to access the system administrator's computer because the administrator might not have yet moved the report into the shared library (Pet. Ex. 19; Tr. 138-39).

After explaining how to find a report, Mr. Persaud left respondent on his own to complete the project. Respondent was still unable to locate the reports but did not ask for help. After receiving another e-mail from Ms. Fine stating that respondent was still having trouble locating the reports, Mr. Persaud demonstrated for respondent how to find a report by looking for one together. In addition, Mr. Persaud wrote step-by-step directions for respondent to follow. Mr. Persaud testified that it took approximately two hours to explain the process and demonstrate how to do it because respondent was having trouble following his explanation. After Mr. Persaud and respondent found the first report together, Mr. Persaud instructed respondent to use the same process to find the remaining reports. Respondent agreed to do so and was able to find the remaining reports on his own (Pet. Ex. 19; Tr. 139-41, 209-10, 212).

Mr. Persaud testified that it was very frustrating and time-consuming to have to break down this task step-by-step and explain it to respondent. He indicated that this was a very basic computer skill that anyone working in the Information Technology ("IT") Department should be able to do. He was dismayed that someone in respondent's title and position would not be able to perform such a basic and simple function (Tr. 141).

Respondent testified that he had found most of the files on his own and had trouble finding only five or six reports. Respondent explained that he asked Mr. Persaud to assist him because he was having trouble. He attributed this difficulty to the change in the naming convention. Respondent stated that he worked slowly and carefully with Mr. Persaud to ensure that he did not make a mistake, but he did not know if it actually took two hours because he was not paying attention to the time. Respondent asserted that he never had a problem finding a report after Mr. Persaud's tutorial (Tr. 250-51, 260-62).

Mr. Persaud's testimony was detailed and thorough. He credibly described his interaction with respondent, acknowledging the frustration that he experienced in having to explain a basic computer task to someone in respondent's position and title. Mr. Persaud did not appear to be biased and even tried to compliment respondent when possible. Respondent's testimony on the other hand, was incredible. His version of events completely eliminated Ms. Fine's role in getting Mr. Persaud to assist respondent. His contention that he was able to do almost all of the work on his own and only had difficulty finding five or six reports seemed exaggerated. Mr. Persaud's testimony about Ms. Fine's frustration with respondent's inability to do the assignment was corroborated by e-mails from Ms. Fine. Moreover, Mr. Persaud credibly testified that respondent was unable to find the reports on his own and that he helped him find the first report to demonstrate how to do it.

Accordingly, I find that on March 15, 2007, respondent was unable to locate report files in the shared library without an in-depth demonstration from his supervisor.

Inability to Perform Basic Computer Assignments

After a series of mishaps during the software roll-outs to the Department of Buses in June 2007, respondent was transferred to the bus maintenance application group under the supervision of Kumphol Khaopravetch. Respondent was charged with being unable to satisfactorily complete a variety of basic Oracle-related assignments between July and November 2007, while assigned to this group. Specifically, respondent was charged with being unable to effectively work on either the Data Stream 7 or Executive Dashboard projects.

The bus maintenance application group develops application software for the Department of Buses. On July 17, 2007, Susan Olderman and Ed Kenny, two supervisors in this group, met with respondent to discuss his background and interests, in an effort to determine how and where respondent could best be assigned. During the conversation, respondent informed them that he was not an application programmer and had no interest in programming. He expressed an interest in data base administration, but acknowledged that he had no practical experience in this area, despite what was indicated on his resume. Respondent was also interested in being a project manager for new initiatives where he could define user requirements and design a system. Ms. Olderman and Mr. Kenny informed respondent that the only new program being launched at the time was the Data Stream 7 project, with Meredith Luning acting as the project manager. Respondent was interested in joining the team, so he was assigned to work on this project as a database analyst (Pet. Ex. 8; Tr. 35, 40, 46-47).

Data Stream 7 is a software application from a vendor which uses Oracle as its underlying database. This software was purchased to replace an existing program known as MP2 to track and monitor maintenance facility equipment. Respondent worked as part of a team, converting the old program to Data Stream 7. After consulting with the vendor, the team decided to start from scratch, by taking the data and filtering it through the Data Stream 7 program in order to populate the database. This was opposed to taking the existing database under MP2 and converting the data to Data Stream 7 (Tr. 40-43, 222-23, 241).

The purpose and goals of the project were explained to respondent and he was given the project manual for Data Stream 7 and an inventory list from the facility that would be used to populate the database. He was directed to familiarize himself with the manual and inventory list, and prepare to participate in a team meeting with the vendor scheduled to take place in two months. After he was given this assignment, Mr. Khaopravetch checked in with respondent periodically to ask if he was having any problems. Respondent invariably said that he was okay. Despite respondent's assurances that everything was fine, it was clear at the vendor meeting that he did not understand his assignment or the goals of the project (Pet. Ex. 9; 44, 223-24, 236, 241).

Respondent was given two months to review the Data Stream 7 manual and become familiar with the software. During that time period, Ms. Luning explained which functions of the software that they planned to use, that they would be starting with a new database and not migrating the old MP2 data, that they were planning on customizing the data obtained from the inventories and that they would only be customizing the functionality of this off-the-shelf software and not the system structure. Despite this explanation, respondent repeatedly asked how to modify the MP2 data in order to convert it to the new database. Ms. Luning and other members of the team reminded respondent each time that he asked that they were starting with a new database (Pet. Ex. 9; Tr. 80, 225).

During the two-day meeting with the vendor, respondent interrupted the sessions several times by asking the vendor how the database was structured and how it could be changed. Both members of the team and the vendor kept reminding respondent that changing the system structure was not an option. Mr. Khaopravetch testified that respondent refused to accept this concept and persisted in asking the same questions over and over. According to Ms. Luning, respondent's inability to grasp the basic goals of the project disrupted the training and wasted a lot of time. Following the vendor meeting, Ms. Luning contacted Mr. Khaopravetch and asked for respondent to be removed from the Data Stream 7 project (Pet. Ex. 9; 45, 80, 226-28).

As a result, respondent was switched to the Executive Dashboard project, under the supervision of Donald Raimondi, Director of Performance Reporting in the Department of Buses. At the time, Executive Dashboard was a program being developed in-house to provide upper level management with a way to review key performance indicators for the Department of Buses. The statistics are generated from the database. Because the information is used by management to make day-to-day decisions, it is important that the data is accurate. Respondent was assigned to conduct quality control testing on the system and ensure the accuracy of the data (Pet. Ex. 10; 49, 51, 229).

Mr. Raimondi met with respondent when he was first assigned to the project. He provided respondent with a test plan and gave him detailed instructions on how to test the various areas of functionality of the dashboard. Respondent was also provided with the required Oracle Discoverer query and the daily shop log spreadsheet. In addition, Mr. Raimondi demonstrated for respondent how to run reports to verify data accuracy, while giving him a detailed explanation. Finally, respondent was provided with a checklist of items that needed to be tested (Pet. Exs. 11, 26; Tr. 71, 231-34).

In a memo to Mr. Khaopravetch, Mr. Raimondi expressed surprise that respondent required such detailed instruction and that he had to demonstrate how to do several basic tasks. Mr. Raimondi indicated that respondent was technically and functionally unable to properly perform or understand the tasks and required intensive supervision. He said that respondent gave the impression that he was being burdened with an unwanted task and attempted to find reasons to avoid the work (Pet. Ex. 11; Tr. 231, 234).

Both Mr. Fortunato and Mr. Khaopravetch testified that respondent was ultimately unsuccessful at completing this project. Respondent had difficulty completing the checklist and Mr. Raimondi was so dissatisfied with respondent's efforts that he ended up doing the work himself. After respondent failed to perform on two projects in this department, Ms. Olderman contacted Mr. Fortunato and requested that respondent be immediately reassigned to another department (Pet. Ex. 12; Tr. 54, 234-35).

Respondent testified that he thought that his work was satisfactory and that no one ever told him that he was performing poorly on the Data Stream 7 project. With respect to the Executive Dashboard project, respondent maintained that he completed the assignments up to a certain point but he was not provided with reports to verify some of the items on the checklist (Tr. 253-54).

I found Mr. Fortunato's and Mr. Khaopravetch's testimony to be very credible and corroborated by memorandum from Ms. Olderman and Mr. Raimondi. Although they were frustrated with respondent's performance, they neither embellished nor exaggerated their testimony. Respondent's testimony, in contrast, was patently incredible. He contended that no one told him that he was performing poorly on the Data Stream project. Yet the evidence proves otherwise. He was repeatedly told that he was misunderstanding the nature of the project. His team and the vendor tried to correct his misconceptions, all to no avail. He was unable to perform very basic computer functions that a person in his position and title should be able to do without intensive instruction.