The Case of the Rookie Traffic Director, Or Your Toll Dollars At Work

When Erin became a Port Authority police officer, she was rightfully excited. Erin wouldn’t have the most glamorous job in the world, but she would have a darn important one. Her job was to direct traffic at the Lincoln Tunnel. But before becoming a permanent officer, she had to satisfactorily complete one year of service. After that “probationary period,” they could only fire her for good cause, and after a hearing.

One day, Erin was busy dealing with a typical situation. A truck that was too tall to fit tried to get into the Tunnel. It had no choice but to stop just short of the entrance. Erin’s job was to direct traffic so that the truck could back up and turn around.  As Erin dutifully set to her task, a Port Authority civilian employee we’ll call Glenn began butting in. Glenn began directing traffic himself. Erin knew that having two people directing the same  traffic is too many cooks in the kitchen. Also, civilians are not authorized to direct traffic. Erin asked Glenn to stop. Glenn refused. Worse, he caused the truck to crash into another vehicle.

Erin reported Glenn to the Port Authority. Two other police officers did the same. But the Port Authority did nothing to discipline the amateur traffic director. Instead, they fired Erin, one day before her probationary period was over.

Erin sued the Port Authority. She claimed that Glenn had political connections within the Port Authority. However, the trial court quickly threw out Erin’s suit.  Why? Because the law requires you to give the Port Authority 60 days’ prior notice that you intend to sue it. Erin didn’t give Port Authority the 60 days’ prior notice.

When Erin appealed, the higher court ruled that the 60 day rule had to be observed.  Whether or not Erin’s case had merit didn’t matter.

The moral of the story is that people who have legal claims should be careful to hire an experienced lawyer who knows the rules.  And let’s hope that Erin’s replacement will be better at directing traffic than Glenn was.  But somehow I doubt that.