Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

SMITH v. CITY OF PITTSBURGH

April 6, 1984

LESTER SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF PITTSBURGH, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: SIMMONS

In this civil action a terminated city employee is seeking reinstatement and back pay from the City of Pittsburgh, claiming that the City's discharge violated his due process rights under the United States Constitution.

The salient facts in this case are undisputed. The plaintiff, Lester Smith, was originally employed by the City of Pittsburgh in its Department of Environmental Services under the Comprehensive Employment Training Act (CETA) program. Subsequently, Smith became a full-time City employee as a Refuse Helper and joined the Refuse and Salvage Drivers and Helpers Local Union Number 609. As a union employee, Smith's employment relationship with the City was governed by a collective bargaining agreement between the City and the Union. The labor contract provides that a member employee can only be discharged for "just cause."

 On August 13, 1979, Smith was allegedly involved in an altercation with his supervisor for which he was immediately discharged. On that same day, the Assistant Director of Environmental Services drafted two memoranda which indicates that Smith was "terminated from his employment with [the] Department [of Environmental Services], effective August 13, 1979." *fn1"

 Two days following Smith's discharge from employment he was summoned to a meeting at the office of the Director of Environmental Services. The meeting continued the following day. These meetings were described by the Director as step three grievance hearings in accordance with the grievance procedure set forth in the labor agreement. At the conclusion of the meetings, the Director concurred in the decision to terminate Smith and forwarded a letter to this effect to the Civil Service Commission.

 Thereafter, Smith filed suit in this Court seeking reinstatement and back pay. Smith's complaint alleged two grounds for reinstatement. First, Smith challenged his termination as a wrongful discharge stemming from discriminatory conduct and harassment he alleged was condoned by the City. Second, Smith claimed that the discharge procedure the City used denied him due process of law.

 Upon motion of the City, this Court dismissed Smith's discrimination claim because it lacked the specificity required for pleading civil rights violations in the Third Circuit. See Rotolo v. Borough of Charleroi, 532 F.2d 920 (3d Cir. 1976); Negrich v. Hohn, 379 F.2d 213 (3d Cir. 1967). As to the due process claim, this Court held that, as a matter of law, Smith was entitled to a just cause hearing consonant with the dictates of due process before he could be properly discharged from his employment with the City. That is to say, before Smith could be irrevocably severed from his employment with the City he must have been given a pretermination hearing to determine the merits of the charges against him and whether the charges warranted his termination. See Abraham v. Pekarski, 728 F.2d 167 (3d Cir. 1984); Perri v. Aytch, 724 F.2d 362 (3d Cir. 1983). This Court therefore denied the City's motion to dismiss Smith's due process claim.

 The parties have now filed cross-motions for summary judgment. In support of its motion, the City contends that the meetings it held two days following Smith's actual termination satisfied the minimum constitutional requirements of due process of law. The City argues that it dismissed Smith by the grievance procedures outlined in the collective bargaining agreement and that the grievance machinery provided in that agreement satisfies the due process requirements for a "just cause" termination. Smith disagrees.

 The only remaining issue of law that need be resolved by this Court is whether Smith's post-termination hearing satisfied the minimum constitutional requirements of due process of law. To resolve this question, a two tier analysis is required. Admittedly, Smith was not given a pretermination hearing; however, a post-termination hearing was held two days after Smith's discharge. Thus, this Court must first decide whether the City's post-termination hearing cured the defect of not affording Smith a hearing prior to his dismissal, and then decide whether the procedural aspects of the City's post-termination hearing provided Smith with the minimum due process safeguards required by law.

  I.

 The Supreme Court has uniformly held that "some kind of hearing is required at some time before a person is finally deprived of his property interests." Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 557-58, 41 L. Ed. 2d 935, 94 S. Ct. 2963 (1974). A "person may have a protected property interest in public employment if contractual or statutory provisions guarantee continued employment absent 'sufficient cause' for discharge." Arnett v. Kennedy, 416 U.S. 134, 165, 40 L. Ed. 2d 15, 94 S. Ct. 1633 (1973), citing, Board of Regents v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 576-78, 33 L. Ed. 2d 548, 92 S. Ct. 2701 (1972).

 In this case, Smith's property interest in employment was created by the collective bargaining agreement between Smith's Union and the City. On its face, the labor contract guarantees that member employees will not be terminated except for "just cause." The labor agreement thereby grants public employees an expectation interest in continued employment with the City. See Abraham v. Pekarski, 728 F.2d 167, slip op. at 5 (3d Cir. 1984) (city employee has "property interest in not being discharged except for good cause. . . ."); Perri v. Aytch, 724 F.2d 362, slip Op. at 8-9 (3d Cir. 1983) (probationary administrative court employee has property interest in not being discharged during probationary period, except for good cause).

 The "formality and procedural requisites for [a due process] hearing can vary, depending upon the importance of the interest involved. . . ." Boddie v. Connecticut, 401 U.S. 371, 378, 28 L. Ed. 2d 113, 91 S. Ct. 780 (1971). This case concerns a discharge hearing in the context of an employee's termination from public employment for "just cause." The process that was due Smith before he could properly suffer the loss of a protected property interest in employment is "a statement of the specific reasons for the dismissal and some form of hearing." Perri, at 366, citing, Goss v. Lopez, 419 U.S. 565, 579, 42 L. Ed. 2d 725, 95 S. Ct. 729 (1975).

 The most "fundamental requisite of due process of law is the opportunity to be heard." Grannis v. Ordean, 234 U.S. 385, 394, 58 L. Ed. 1363, 34 S. Ct. 779 (1914). "It is an opportunity which must be granted at a meaningful time and in a meaningful manner." Armstrong v. Manzo, 380 U.S. 545, 552, 14 L. Ed. 2d 62, 85 S. Ct. 1187 (1965). Given the importance of a public employee's interest in continued employment, at minimum, an accused employee should be given the opportunity to contest the basis of his discharge and produce evidence in rebuttal.

 Also essential to due process of law is the requirement of notice. See Mullane v. Central Hanover Bank & Trust Co., 339 U.S. 306, 94 L. Ed. 865, 70 S. Ct. 652 (1950). As a prerequisite to a meaningful hearing, a public employee must be apprised of the specific charges against him so that he can adequately prepare his rebuttal. The notice must be calculated to reasonably inform the employee of the ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.