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January 14, 2011

Name clearing hearings

Name clearing hearings
Ortiz v Ward, 546 NY2d 624

The Appellate Division, 1st Department, was asked to consider the issue of the right of a probationer discharged after the employer determines that he or she has not satisfactorily completed his or her probationary period to either (1) a "pre-termination hearing" before being discharged or (2) a “name-clearing hearing" following his or her termination.

As to the right to a "pre-termination hearing," the Court said that a probationary employee could be discharged without a hearing so long as the termination was made in good faith. However, it appears that the employer may be called upon to demonstrate that the dismissal was made in good faith by providing some evidence to support its decision to terminate the probationer.

In this case the Appellate Division said that "the evidence in this record supports the conclusion that [Ortiz] was discharged for good reason and, accordingly, no hearing was necessary before terminating [Ortiz'] employment."

Although it is frequently said that a probationer may be terminated from his or her employment at any time after completing the minimum probationary period and before the end of the maximum period of probation without any reason being required to be given for the discharge, if the termination is challenged the employer will probably have to disclose the underlying reason or reasons for the firing. Further, these judgments by the employer will have satisfy the court with respect to their being reasonable and made in good faith.

If, on the other hand, the employer wishes to terminate the probationer before he or she has completed the minimum probationary period required for the position, it may do so only after bringing disciplinary action against the employee and holding a disciplinary hearing or proceeding with a Taylor Law disciplinary arbitration.

In considering the need for a "name-clearing hearing," the Appellate Division noted that Ortiz was not entitled to such a hearing as he did not show that his employer had publicly disclosed the stigmatizing reasons for his discharge. Courts in the past have ruled that the internal disclosure of stigmatizing reasons for the discharge of a probationer to agency administrators did not constitute a public disclosure of such information and thus a name-clearing hearing" was not required because of such intra-agency communications.

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