Brief Fact Summary. A State Board of Education fired an employee, without first giving him a hearing, for lying on a job application. Under Ohio law, the employee could only be terminated for cause. Respondent challenged the constitutionality of the termination procedures.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. While a State may elect not to confer a property interest in public employment, it may not constitutionally deprive one of such an interest, once conferred, without the appropriate procedural safeguards.
Held. No. The lower courts rulings requiring a hearing before termination are affirmed.
Justice White: Respondent’s dismissal amounted to a violation of his Due Process rights under the United States Constitution. The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment contains a substantive and a procedural component. As such, the clause forbids the government to deprive a citizen of life, liberty or property without affording the citizen certain procedural safeguards. The rights to property that citizens have, which cannot be taken away without such safeguards (substantive rights), can be created by State law. The procedural requirements that must be met to constitutionally deprive a citizen of her rights to property may also have their dimensions defined by existing rules or understandings that stem from State law.
Under Ohio law, Respondent was a classified civil servant. By law State law, such employees could only be terminated by cause and with a pretermination hearing. Therefore, since Respondent was conferred a right to employment by State law, and Respondent was deprived of his right to employment without a pretermination hearing, the government unconstitutionally deprived Respondent of his right to property under the Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Clause of the Constitution.
Dissent. Justice Rehnquist: We ought to take into account the totality of a State’s definition of a property right. The employee’s statutorily defined right is not a guarantee against removal without cause in the abstract. Rather, it is a guarantee as enforced by the procedures the Ohio legislature has designated for the determination of cause.
Discussion. This case provides an example of a common fact pattern wherein the rights and protections accorded a citizen under the United States Constitutions depends on the rights and protections she has been accorded under some other source of law. Ordinarily, the “other source” will be a State law or local ordinance.