James Loudermill, a classified civil servant in Ohio, challenged the pretermination process of the Cleveland Board of Education without giving him an opportunity to challenge or respond to his dismissal.
The essential requirements of due process are notice and an opportunity to respond. The opportunity to present reasons, either in person or in writing, why proposed action should not be taken is a fundamental due process requirement. To require more than this prior to termination would intrude to an unwarranted extent on the government’s interest in quickly removing an unsatisfactory employee.
In 1979 the Cleveland Board of Education, petitioner, hired respondent James Loudermill as a security guard. On his job application, Loudermill stated that he had never been convicted of a felony. Later, the Board discovered that in fact Loudermill had been convicted of grand larceny in 1968. The Board informed Loudermill that he had been dismissed because of his dishonesty in filling out the employment application. Loudermill was not afforded an opportunity to respond to the charge of dishonesty or to challenge his dismissal. Under Ohio law, Loudermill was a “classified civil servant” and such employees can be terminated only for cause and may obtain administrative review if discharged. Pursuant to this provision, Loudermill filed an appeal with the Cleveland Civil Service Commission, who eventually upheld the dismissal. Loudermill brought a suit in the federal district court alleging that the Board’s practice was unconstitutional.
Does the pretermination process of the Cleveland Board of Education without giving him an opportunity to challenge or respond to his dismissal violate the Constitution?
Yes, all the process that is due is provided by a pretermination opportunity to respond, coupled with post-termination administrative procedures as provided by the Ohio statute. An essential principle of due process is that a deprivation of life, liberty or property be preceded by notice and opportunity for hearing appropriate to the nature of the case. The root requirement of the due process is that an individual should receive an opportunity to a hearing before he is deprived of any significant property interest. Here, the respondents had property interest in their job, but the respondents have not received any opportunity to respond. Thus, the practice of the Board violates the Constitution.
The need for some form of pretermination hearing is evident from a balancing of the competing interests at stake. These are the private interest in retaining employment, the governmental interest in the expeditious removal of unsatisfactory employees an the avoidance of administrative burdens, and the risk of an erroneous termination. Here, the government interest in immediate termination does not outweigh the private interests. Affording the employee an opportunity to respond prior to termination would impose neither a significant administrative burden nor intolerable delays. The pretermination hearing, though necessary, need not be elaborate. In general, something less than a full evidentiary hearing is sufficient prior to adverse administrative action. Here, no opportunity for a hearing was given to the respondents, and thus the Board violated the due process requirements.