decided: September 26, 1988.
PERSONNEL DEPARTMENT, CITY OF PHILADELPHIA AND KEVIN TUCKER, APPELLANTS
WENDELL HILLIARD, APPELLEE
Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, in the case of Wendell Hilliard v. Personnel Department of The City of Philadelphia and Kevin Tucker, Commissioner, Philadelphia Police Department, No. 3140 September Term, 1987.
Richard C. McNeill, Jr., Assistant City Solicitor, for appellants.
Carol Waties, with her, David Wayne Waties, Waties & Waties Law Offices, for appellee.
Judges Craig and Doyle, and Senior Judge Narick, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Senior Judge Narick. Concurring Opinion by Judge Doyle.
[ 120 Pa. Commw. Page 67]
Before us is an appeal by the Personnel Department, City of Philadelphia and Kevin Tucker*fn1 (Appellants) from a decision and order of Judge Victor J. DiNubile of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia which directed Appellants to permit Appellee Wendell Hilliard (Hilliard) to enter the police recruit class scheduled to commence on or about October 5, 1987. However, Judge DiNubile's order also forbade Hilliard from maintaining outside employment and breach of this condition would result in Hilliard's dismissal from his employment as a police officer. We reverse.
This case originates from a complaint in equity and petition for injunctive relief filed by Hilliard after his dismissal from employment as a probationary police officer with the City of Philadelphia. Pursuant to Section
[ 120 Pa. Commw. Page 687]
-401(J) of the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter*fn2 and Philadelphia Civil Service Regulation 14.01, Hilliard, as a civil service employee, was required to successfully complete a six-month probationary period before achieving permanent civil service employment status. During his period of probationary employment, Hilliard was required to participate in a 19-week training class at the Philadelphia Police Academy. All members of the class including Mr. Hilliard were informed during the first week of class that Police Department Directive 121 prohibits probationary police officers from maintaining outside employment. The members of the class including Hilliard were also provided with a police manual. This manual indicated that six demerits would be assessed against individuals maintaining outside employment during their period of probation and that the accumulation of six demerits would result in extra duty assignments.
During his period of probationary employment, Hilliard was also employed as a bus driver with Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA). On or about July 14, 1987, Hilliard's commanding officer, Lieutenant Michael Beck, received information that Hilliard was employed with SEPTA. When confronted by Lt. Beck, Hilliard admitted that he was employed by SEPTA. Lt. Beck advised Hilliard not to resign from his job with SEPTA until Lt. Beck "got back to him". Subsequently, Hilliard was terminated for maintaining outside employment in violation of Directive 121.
The trial court denied Hilliard's request for injunctive relief reasoning that Hilliard was an employee at will and that the police department had a valid right to terminate any probationary employee for maintaining
[ 120 Pa. Commw. Page 69]
outside employment. However, the trial court further reasoned that certain equities did exist in favor of Hilliard, namely
(1) There was no evidence presented to indicate that Mr. Hilliard willfully failed to disclose or misrepresent the fact that he maintained outside employment. The Police Department learned of it shortly after his admission to the class. When confronted, he readily admitted to it.
(2) He [Hilliard] reasonably relied on Lt. Beck's assertion that he could maintain his Septa job after the interview on July 24, 1987.
(3) He [Hilliard] did not in any way, openly, beligerently [sic] and against the Department's wishes, persist in maintaining outside employment. After the Beck interview, Petitioner [Hilliard] received no advance notice nor warning of termination.
(4) There was some ambiguity about what sanction would be imposed by the Police Department. Although there is a general police directive granting the Department broad discretion in terminating a recruit for outside employment, the police manual merely provided for six demerits.
See trial court opinion, page 4.
The trial court concluded, based upon these equities, that Hilliard be permitted to enter a new police recruit class, noting that its ruling was beneficial, reasonable and not injurious to either of the parties. Appellants filed an appeal to the Commonwealth Court which operated as an automatic supersedeas of the trial court's order.*fn3 Hilliard thereafter petitioned the trial court to
[ 120 Pa. Commw. Page 70]
lift the supersedeas and his request was granted. Appellants then petitioned this Court for reinstatement of the supersedeas and the petition was granted. Hilliard thereafter filed a petition for reconsideration with this Court and a petition for stay of this Court's order with the Supreme Court. It was subsequently ordered by the Supreme Court pending final disposition on the merits in the Commonwealth Court that Hilliard be permitted to enter the police recruit class as indicated in the trial court's order.
The sole issue presented for our resolution in this appeal is whether the trial court erred in granting Hilliard's request for equitable relief by ordering his admission into a new police recruit class.
When reviewing a decision of a trial court in an equity proceeding, we are confined to a determination as to whether the findings are supported by substantial evidence, whether an error of law has been committed, or whether an abuse of discretion has occurred. Northampton, Bucks County, Municipal Authority v. Bucks County Water and Sewer Authority, 96 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 514, 508 A.2d 605 (1986).
It is well established that a probationary status civil service employee does not enjoy the job security afforded to regular status employees who may be removed only for just cause. See Norristown State Hospital v. Bruce, 69 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 298, 450 A.2d 1093 (1982); Department of Health v. Graham, 58 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 409, 427 A.2d 1279 (1981); Cunningham v. State Civil Service Commission, 17 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 375, 332 A.2d 839 (1975).*fn4 A probationary status civil service employee, unlike a regular status civil service employee, does not possess a substantial personal or property right in continued employment.
[ 120 Pa. Commw. Page 71]
than other employees. In fact, the record reveals that the parties stipulated Hilliard was dismissed for violation of Directive 121 which forbids probationary employees from maintaining outside employment.*fn6
Hence, once the trial court concluded that Hilliard's dismissal was not for discriminatory reasons, it lacked authority to explore the reasonableness of Appellant's decision to remove Hilliard. A court sitting in equity must follow the law. First Federal Savings and Loan Association v. Swift, 457 Pa. 206, 321 A.2d 895 (1974). Hilliard did not present evidence that his dismissal was based upon discriminatory motives. Therefore, Hilliard failed to sustain his burden of proof before the trial court and it was an abuse of discretion for the trial court to order Hilliard's re-admission to the Police Academy.
Accordingly, we must reverse the decision and order of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia.
And Now, this 26th day of September, 1988, the order of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County in the above-captioned matter is hereby reversed.
Concurring Opinion by Judge Doyle:
I concur in the result reached by the majority because the Appointing Authority here was within its province to dismiss Hilliard, a probationary employee who had not yet attained a property right in his position, provided, that the dismissal was not implemented
[ 120 Pa. Commw. Page 73]
for unlawful, i.e., discriminatory, reasons. I do not, however, believe that the common pleas court had jurisdiction to decide the discrimination question in the context of an equity proceeding where administrative remedies before the Human Relations Commission are available to determine the issue of the alleged discrimination under the provisions of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act.*fn1 See e.g., Murphy v. Township of Lower Merion, 73 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 376, 457 A.2d 1342 (1983) (a court will only exercise its equitable powers where statutory remedy has been exhausted).