Tuesday, June 30, 2015

An employer may be required to provide an individual with a name clearing hearing if it has publicly disclosed stigmatizing material concerning the individual


An employer may be required to provide an individual with a name clearing hearing if it has publicly disclosed stigmatizing material concerning the individual
2015 NY Slip Op 04890, Appellate Division, Third Department

After a probationary teacher [Probationer] was terminated from her employment by the School District she commenced an action against a number of school administrators and board members [Defendants] alleging that Defendants had maliciously published defamatory statements about her and that her due process rights were violated by Defendants' failure to provide her with a name-clearing hearing.

Supreme Court granted Probationer's application to annul the School Board's determination denying her a name-clearing hearing and ordered such hearing to be provided.

Addressing Probationer’s due process claim, the Appellate Division said that Supreme Court erred in annulling the Board's determination and granting plaintiff a name-clearing hearing. The court explained that where "a government employee is dismissed for stigmatizing reasons that seriously imperil the opportunity to acquire future employment, the employee is entitled to an opportunity to refute the charge [or charges]" at a name-clearing hearing if the employer publicly disclosed the stigmatizing reasons or if there is a likelihood of future dissemination of such reasons.”  

Probationer had requested a name-clearing hearing “to specifically defend against and address the assertions” by school officials concerning her termination or her relations with students that had been made part of her personnel file. However, said the court, Probationer’s allegations as to the stigmatizing content of such material did not include any further allegations that Defendants and the Board had publicly disclosed those letters or their contents.

Further, said the Appellate Division, Probationer’s assertion that she was seeking relief in the form of removal of the statement of reasons letter from her personnel file was sufficient to apprise the Board of an allegation that there was a likelihood that such a letter or its content might disseminated. Members of the Board, however, said that, before deciding to deny Probationer’s request for a name-clearing hearing the Board determined that the statement of reasons set out in the letter had been and would remain confidential.

Thus, the court concluded, “given that [Probationer] did not allege that Defendants and the Board had publicly disseminated any stigmatizing materials and considering the evidence supporting the conclusion that [Probationer’s] allegation that the statement of reasons letter was in [Probationer's]  personnel file was factually incorrect, there is no basis to disturb the Board's denial of a name-clearing hearing.

Turning to Probationer's action alleging statements made by certain school officials had subjected her to "ostracism and rejection" in the community, the Appellate Division, after explaining the relevant law, held that “Given that defendants do not challenge the jury's determinations that [certain school officials] made the respective statements and that they were defamatory” and remanded the case for a new trial to determine damages, if any, “based upon proof of harms limited to those that can be linked by proximate cause to the two slanderous statements.”

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

Handbooks focusing on State and Municipal Public Personnel Law continue to be available for purchase via the links provided below:

The Discipline Book at http://thedisciplinebook.blogspot.com/

Challenging Adverse Personnel Decisions at http://nypplarchives.blogspot.com

The Disability Benefits E-book: at http://section207.blogspot.com/

Layoff, Preferred Lists at http://nylayoff.blogspot.com/

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