Protectable Property Interest - Hearing Prior to Discharge

As our Supreme Court explained in Skelly v. State Personnel Bd. (1975) 15 Cal. 3d 194 124 Cal. Rptr. 14, 539 P.2d 774: "The California Civil Service Act endows state employees who attain permanent status with a legitimate claim of a protectible property interest. Such employees may not be dismissed or subjected to other disciplinary measures unless facts exist constituting 'cause' for such discipline . . . . In the absence of sufficient cause, the permanent employee has a statutory right to continued employment free of these punitive measures. . . . This statutory right constitutes 'a legitimate claim of entitlement' to a government benefit . . . . Therefore, the state must comply with procedural due process requirements before it may deprive its permanent employee of this property interest by punitive action." ( Id. at pp. 207-208, citation omitted; see Gov. Code, 18528, 19170, 19996, 19997, subd. (a).) Although "some form of notice and hearing must precede a final deprivation of property . . . 'the timing and content of the notice and the nature of the hearing will depend on an appropriate accommodation of the competing interests involved.' " (Skelly, supra, 15 Cal. 3d at p. 209, italics omitted.) By way of example, in cases involving allegations of employee misconduct that warrant discharge, the question is whether a hearing must be "afforded prior to the time that the initial removal decision becomes effective." ( Id. at p. 212.) In resolving that question, the court must balance " 'the Government's interest in expeditious removal of an unsatisfactory employee . . . against the interest of the affected employee in continued public employment.' " (Ibid.) "It is clear that due process does not require the state to provide the employee with a full trial-type evidentiary hearing prior to the initial taking of punitive action. However, . . . due process does mandate that the employee be accorded certain procedural rights before the discipline becomes effective. As a minimum, these preremoval safeguards must include notice of the proposed action, the reasons therefor, a copy of the charges and materials upon which the action is based, and the right to respond, either orally or in writing, to the authority initially imposing discipline." (Skelly, supra, 15 Cal. 3d at p. 215.) And, of course, a public employee is entitled to a full evidentiary hearing after the disciplinary action is imposed. (Ibid.) In Cleveland Board of Education v. Loudermill (1985) 470 U.S. 532 105 S. Ct. 1487, 84 L. Ed. 2d 494 (Loudermill), another case involving the discharge of public employees, the United States Supreme Court stated: "Due process requires 'some kind of a hearing' prior to the discharge of an employee who has a constitutionally protected property interest in his employment. . . . "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 and the avoidance of administrative burdens, and the risk of an erroneous termination. . . . "First, the significance of the private interest in retaining employment cannot be gainsaid. We have frequently recognized the severity of depriving a person of the means of livelihood. . . . While a fired worker may find employment elsewhere, doing so will take some time and is likely to be burdened by the questionable circumstances under which he left his previous job. . . . "Second, some opportunity for the employee to present his side of the case is recurringly of obvious value in reaching an accurate decision. Dismissals for cause will often involve factual disputes. . . . Even where the facts are clear, the appropriateness or necessity of the discharge may not be; in such cases, the only meaningful opportunity to invoke the discretion of the decisionmaker is likely to be before the termination takes effect. . . . "The governmental interest in immediate termination does not outweigh these 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. . . . 'The formality and procedural requisites for the hearing can vary, depending upon the importance of the interests involved and the nature of the subsequent proceedings.' . . . In general, 'something less' than a full evidentiary hearing is sufficient prior to adverse administrative action. . . . Under state law, the terminated employees are later entitled to a full administrative hearing and judicial review. the only question is what steps are required before the termination takes effect. ". . . the opportunity for the employee to present reasons, either in person or in writing, why proposed action should not be taken is a fundamental due process requirement. . . . the tenured public employee is entitled to oral or written notice of the charges against him, an explanation of the employer's evidence, and an opportunity to present his side of the story." (Loudermill, supra, 470 U.S. at pp. 542-546 105 S. Ct. at pp. 1493-1495, citations and fns. omitted.) Loudermill involved the discharge of two employees: a security guard who provided false information on his job application, and a bus mechanic who failed an eye exam. (Loudermill, supra, 470 U.S. at pp. 535-536 105 S. Ct. at pp. 1489-1490.)