A health officer was terminated after the State Ethics Commission concluded that she had done work for other municipalities while being paid by the city of Connellsville. She filed suit, alleging that the city violated her procedural due process rights.
What happened. In 2008, “Kelly” was employed as health officer for Connellsville, the boroughs of South Connellsville and Dunbar, and the city of Monongahela.
On September 25, 2006, Connellsville’s director of public safety and health issued a written warning to Kelly, informing her about allegations that Kelly was working for other municipalities during her normal city working hours. The director instructed her to conduct only city-related business between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on weekdays, to use city office equipment only for city-related business, and that she could face termination if she did not comply.
The State Ethics Commission investigated the allegations and concluded in April 2008 that Kelly had violated Pennsylvania’s Ethics Act. Among other things, it ordered her to pay $2,928.37.
The director sent a termination letter to Kelly on July 9, 2008, and a follow-up letter 2 days later, suspending Kelly’s discharge pending a hearing before the City Council. Kelly received a third letter from the director on August 15, 2008, at about 4:15 p.m. That letter referred to the commission’s decision and advised Kelly that a hearing would take place on Wednesday, August 20, 2008. Shortly after the hearing, the City Council announced Kelly’s termination.
Kelly appealed, but the trial court affirmed the City Council’s decision. She then appealed to the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, arguing that she was not given adequate notice of the hearing.
What the court said. The court reversed the decision and remanded for a new hearing. “… [B]ecause the August 14, 2008 letter incorporated by reference the State Ethics Commission’s April 28, 2008 final adjudication and order, the City Council provided… [Kelly] with adequate notice of the charges it would be considering at the August 20, 2008 hearing,” the court said.
However, the court said that 3 business days’ notice of the hearing “was plainly inadequate” and “failed to satisfy due process.” Bornstein v. City of Connellsville, Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, No. 150 C.D. 2011 (2/2/12).
Point to remember: The court stopped short of saying that the city should have provided Kelly with 10 days’ advance notice of the hearing, as required under State Civil Service Commission regulations when discharging a civil servant. However, it said 3 business days’ notice was not sufficient.