supervision. Huff avers that publication of these charges, as well as their distortion, was caused by defendants.
Plaintiff instituted this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983
asserting that, because the accusations which led to his forced resignation were damaging to his character and reputation, he was entitled to notice and a hearing before being compelled to resign. Huff contends that defendants deprived him of his constitutional right to liberty without procedural due process, and now seeks reinstatement, damages, and an opportunity for a full hearing.
Currently before the court is the motion of defendants to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Defendants argue that plaintiff has failed to demonstrate a property interest in his employment, and thus is without the guaranty of procedural due process as embodied in the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. For the reasons elucidated below, we will deny the motion of defendants because plaintiff has stated a cognizable claim under § 1983 and the Fourteenth Amendment.
A property interest has been found to exist where by statute, rule, or contract, an employee may be discharged only for cause. Arnett v. Kennedy, 416 U.S. 134, 94 S. Ct. 1633, 40 L. Ed. 2d 15 (1974). A constitutionally protected property interest has not been recognized where an employee serves at the will and pleasure of a public employer. Bishop v. Wood, 426 U.S. 341, 343-347, 96 S. Ct. 2074, 2076-2078, 48 L. Ed. 2d 684 (1976).
In the instant matter, it is clear that Huff has no property interest in the employment position from which he was allegedly forced to resign. Under Pennsylvania law, a public employee, such as plaintiff, "takes his job subject to the possibility of summary removal by the employing authority. He is essentially an employee-at-will." Scott v. Philadelphia Parking Authority, 402 Pa. 151, 154, 166 A.2d 278, 280 (1960); Marino v. Bowers, 483 F. Supp. 765, 770 (E.D.Pa.1980).
Because plaintiff was a non-contractual, at-will employee of the County of Butler, we find no right to continued employment which could constitute a property interest. Thus, we agree with defendants that Huff may not contend that his "property" was denied without due process of law.
However this has never been plaintiff's contention. Plaintiff specifically alleges in his complaint that his forced resignation, amidst accusations of "sexual harassment," operates to deprive him of his "liberty" without due process "in that the accusations were stigmatizing and damaging to his character and reputation in the community."
We conclude that plaintiff has stated a valid cause of action under the Civil Rights Act and the Fourteenth Amendment, in alleging that he has been denied liberty without due process of law.
The Supreme Court has decreed two ways in which an employee's Fourteenth Amendment liberty interest may be implicated, thus triggering the guarantees of procedural due process. First, entitlement to a hearing accrues if, in making a decision to terminate employment, charges are made which might seriously damage the employee's standing and association in the community. Board of Regents of State Colleges v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 573, 92 S. Ct. 2701, 2707, 33 L. Ed. 2d 548 (1972). Second, the safeguards of the due process clause attach if the state, in dismissing the employee, "imposed upon him a stigma or other disability that foreclosed his freedom to take advantage of other employment opportunities." Id. As the Court stated in Roth:
The State, in declining to rehire the respondent, did not make any charge against him that might seriously damage his standing and associations in his community. It did not base the non-renewal of his contract on a charge, for example, that he had been guilty of dishonesty, or immorality. Had it done so, this would be a different case. For "(w)here a person's good name, reputation, honor, or integrity is at stake because of what the government is doing to him, notice and an opportunity to be heard are essential.'
408 U.S. at 564, 92 S. Ct. at 2703, quoting Wisconsin v. Constantineau, 400 U.S. 433, 437, 91 S. Ct. 507, 510, 27 L. Ed. 2d 515.
Numerous cases subsequent to Roth have held that a public employee who is discharged amidst allegations of dishonesty or immorality is entitled to a hearing, assuming the employee can demonstrate that those allegations had some stigmatizing effect. Cox v. Northern Virginia Transp. Commission, 551 F.2d 555, 558 (4th Cir. 1976); Abeyta v. Town of Taos, 499 F.2d 323, 327 (10th Cir. 1974); Hostrop v. Board of Junior College Dist. No. 515, Etc., Ill., 471 F.2d 488, 494 (7th Cir. 1972); An-Ti Chai v. Michigan Technological University, 493 F. Supp. 1137, 1155-1156 (W.D.Mich.N.D.1980).
Similarly, courts have suggested that due process requires a hearing where an employee is discharged in the wake of stigmatizing charges of fraud,
dishonesty in conducting financial affairs,
and moral unfitness and distribution of pornography.
Some confusion has emerged in this jurisprudence as the result of the Supreme Court's decision in Paul v. Davis, 424 U.S. 693, 96 S. Ct. 1155, 47 L. Ed. 2d 405 (1976). In that decision, authored by Justice Rehnquist, the Court restricted to some extent the ability to pursue an action under Section 1983 for alleged injury to reputation. The majority concluded that injury to a person's reputation alone constituted neither liberty nor property within the meaning of the due process clause. The Court held that in addition to the alleged defamation of the individual, there must also exist "an accompanying loss of government employment," or deprivation of some "right or status previously recognized by state law." 424 U.S. at 709-711, 96 S. Ct. at 1164-1165.
In reviewing Board of Regents v. Roth and other earlier decisions relating to the breadth of the guaranty of procedural due process, Justice Rehnquist noted:
(It) was not thought sufficient to establish a claim under § 1983 and the Fourteenth Amendment that there simply be defamation by a state official; the defamation had to occur in the course of the termination of employment. Certainly there is no suggestion in Roth to indicate that a hearing would be required each time the State in its capacity as employer might be considered responsible for a statement defaming an employee who continues to be an employee.