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DAVID J. PIVARNIK v. COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA (04/25/84)

COMMONWEALTH COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA


decided: April 25, 1984.

DAVID J. PIVARNIK, PETITIONER
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, RESPONDENT

Appeal from the Order of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation in the case of David Pivarnik, dated October 22, 1982.

COUNSEL

Timothy W. Pawol, for petitioner.

Michael J. McCaney, Jr., Assistant Counsel, with him Spencer A. Manthorpe, Chief Counsel, and Jay C. Waldman, General Counsel, for respondent.

Judges MacPhail, Palladino and Blatt, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Blatt.

Author: Blatt

[ 82 Pa. Commw. Page 43]

David J. Pivarnik (petitioner) appeals here from a decision of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), discharging him from his position as a Highway Maintenance Manager 1.

The facts are not in dispute. In August, 1981, PennDOT hired the petitioner on a 12-month probationary basis for a non-union, non-civil service position. It supplied him with a copy of its employee handbook which contains, among other things, a procedure for filing employee grievances, and, following his dismissal in October, 1982, he filed a grievance which proceeded through a third step grievance meeting, at which point, his discharge was made final.*fn1 The present appeal ensued.

The petitioner argues that his termination was invalid because he was denied a due process hearing as set forth in the Administrative Agency Law, 2 Pa. C.S. § 504. He further contends that he is entitled to a

[ 82 Pa. Commw. Page 44]

    due process hearing because he gained a property right in his employment, i.e. a reasonable expectation of continued employment, when he completed his 12-month probationary period and became a "permanent employe".*fn2 While PennDOT admits that the petitioner did not receive a due process hearing, it argues that the decision to discharge him was not an "adjudication",*fn3 as the term is defined under Section 101 of the Administrative Agency Law, 2 Pa. C.S. § 101, and that he was consequently entitled to neither a due process hearing*fn4 nor to an appeal*fn5 from that decision. We are asked, therefore, to dismiss the appeal.

[ 82 Pa. Commw. Page 45]

This Court held in Amesbury v. Luzerne County Institution District, 27 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 418, 366 A.2d 631 (1976) that a property right exists in public employment where the employee has an enforceable expectation of continued employment and that such an enforceable expectation is present "only if the employee, by statute or contract, has been granted some form of guarantee." Id. at 421, 366 A.2d at 633 (emphasis added). The petitioner here, however, is admittedly a non-union, non-civil service employee. He cannot, therefore, point to any statute which would guarantee him continued employment. He argues, of course, that the employee handbook distributed by PennDOT is a contract which affords him the necessary guarantee, but PennDOT contends that the only contract which can guarantee a public employee an enforceable expectation of continued employment is a collective bargaining agreement.

In Pennsylvania, public employees gain an enforceable expectation of continued employment in their jobs through legislative action.*fn6 Scott v. Philadelphia Parking Authority, 402 Pa. 151, 166 A.2d 278 (1960).*fn7 An employee handbook issued by a Commonwealth agency, of course, is not a legislative action in itself, and cannot be considered a contract guaranteeing a property right in employment unless the legislature

[ 82 Pa. Commw. Page 46]

    has so provided. See Mahoney v. Philadelphia Housing Authority, 13 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 243, 320 A.2d 459 (1974), cert. denied, 419 U.S. 1122 (1975). Yet no legislative enactment has been cited which would enable PennDOT to enter into an employment contract guaranteeing tenure with a non-union, non-civil service employee.

The petitioner's reliance on DeFrank v. County of Greene, 50 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 30, 412 A.2d 663 (1980) and Colban Appeal, 58 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 104, 427 A.2d 313 (1981) is misplaced. In DeFrank v. County of Greene, a discharged county employee argued that the County was estopped from denying the validity of the procedures for discharge set forth in its personnel manual and this Court agreed. Here, however, PennDOT followed the procedure outlined in the employee handbook. Moreover, the petitioner's argument is not based on principles of estoppel, but on the premise that he enjoys a property right in his employment and should consequently have been afforded a due process hearing in compliance with the Administrative Agency Law. In Colban Appeal, we held merely that the discharge procedure contained in the county's employee handbook was "a form of guarantee of employment during unoffending conduct or until after being thrice warned of a minor infraction." Id. at 107, 427 A.2d at 314 (emphasis added). We did not hold that the employee handbook was a contract granting the employee a property right in his employment.

[ 82 Pa. Commw. Page 47]

The petitioner's argument that his status as a "permanent employee" provides him with an enforceable expectation of continued employment or a property right must also fail. Our Supreme Court in Scott specifically stated that whether or not a public employee has a property right in his employment is "a matter of legislative grace," Scott, 402 Pa. at 154, 166 A.2d at 280, and in no way has our legislature provided that a person designated as a "permanent employee", who is also a non-union, non-civil service employee, has been thereby provided with a right in employment.

The petitioner here does not have a property right in his position, and a decision to dismiss him cannot be considered an adjudication under the Administrative Agency Law, nor is he entitled to a due process hearing before discharge.

We will, therefore, dismiss the present appeal.

Order

And Now, this 25th day of April, 1984, the appeal in the above-captioned matter is hereby dismissed.

Jurisdiction relinquished.

Disposition

Appeal dismissed.


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