Plaintiff John F. Skelly, M.D. (hereafter petitioner) appeals from a judgment denying his petition for writ of mandate to compel defendants State Personnel Board (Board) and its members to set aside his allegedly wrongful dismissal from employment by the State Department of Health Care Services (Department).
In July 1972 petitioner was employed by the Department as a medical consultant.
At the hearing, the Department introduced the testimony of Philip L. Philippe, Gerald R. Green and Bernard V. Moore, three successive district administrators of the Department's Sacramento office to which petitioner had been assigned. Their testimony was corroborated in part by written documents from the Department files, and disclosed the following facts: Philippe met with petitioner on November 17, 1970, to discuss the latter's unexcused absences, apparent drinking on the job and failure to comply with Department work hour requirements. This meeting was held at the insistence of several staff members who had complained to Philippe about petitioner's conduct. The doctor was admonished to comply with pertinent Department rules and regulations.
Nevertheless, despite further warnings given petitioner and efforts made to accommodate him by extending his lunch break from the usual 45 minutes to one hour, he persisted in his unexplained absences and failure to observe work hours and as a result on February 28, 1972, received a letter of reprimand and a one-day suspension.
This punitive action had little effect on petitioner who continued to take excessive lunch periods. On March 3, 1972, Gerald Green, then district administrator, and Doris Soderberg, regional administrator, met with petitioner and discussed his refusal to obey work rules, but apparently to no avail. He took lengthy lunch breaks on March 13, 14, 15 and 16. Green again met with petitioner on March 16 in an effort to resolve the problem. When asked why he had taken 35 extra minutes for lunch that day, petitioner claimed to be sick. Green responded that on the day in question he had observed the doctor drinking and talking at a restaurant and bar. Green then suggested that petitioner, for his own convenience, change from full-time to part-time status at an adjusted compensation. Petitioner declined to do so and Green admonished him that further violations of work rules would result in disciplinary action and even dismissal.
In the early afternoon of June 26, Bernard Moore, who succeeded Green as district administrator, attempted but without success to see petitioner in the latter's office. Moore found him at a local bar laughing and talking, with a drink in front of him, his hair somewhat disheveled, and his arm around a companion. Petitioner later left the bar but did not
In his defense, petitioner testified that he had in fact been sick on the afternoon of June 26, and that after an unsuccessful attempt to telephone his wife, he had informed a co-worker that he was going home.
Petitioner further testified that his longer lunch periods involved no more than 5 to 15 extra minutes. In justification of this, he stated that he had more than made up for the time missed by skipping his morning and afternoon coffee breaks, by working more than his allotted time over holidays and by occasionally taking work home with him. He denied having a drinking problem and stated that his alcoholic intake during working hours was limited to an occasional drink or two at lunch.
Three co-workers, including Dr. F. Audley Hale, the senior medical consultant and petitioner's immediate supervisor for 13 months, confirmed petitioner's testimony that he rarely took coffee breaks. They described him as efficient, productive and extremely helpful and cooperative, and stated that his work had never appeared to be affected by alcoholic consumption. Dr. Hale rated petitioner's work as good to superior
The Department introduced no evidence to show, and indeed did not claim, that the quality or quantity of petitioner's work was in any way inadequate; his failure to comply with the prescribed time schedule did not impede the effective performance of his own duties or those of his fellow workers. Although petitioner was handicapped by relatively serious sight and speech impediments, the Department did not rely upon these physical deficiencies as grounds for dismissal; nor did it appear that these difficulties affected his work performance.
The hearing officer found that these facts constituted grounds for punitive action under section 19572, subdivision (j) (inexcusable absence without leave). In considering whether dismissal was the appropriate discipline, the officer noted that "[a]ppellant is 64 years old, has had a long and honorable medical career and is now handicapped by serious sight and speech difficulties. Also, the Senior Medical Consultant has no complaints about appellant's work." On the other hand, he pointed out that the Department's problems with petitioner dated back to 1970, that he had been warned, formally as well as informally, that compliance with Department rules was required, and that he had nevertheless persisted in his pattern of misconduct. On this basis, the hearing officer concluded that there was no reason to anticipate improvement if petitioner were restored to his position and recommended that the Department's punitive action be affirmed. The Board approved and adopted the hearing officer's proposed decision in its entirety and denied a petition for rehearing.
Petitioner urges both procedural and substantive grounds for annulling the Board's decision. As to the procedural ground, he contends that the provisions of the State Civil Service Act (Act) governing the taking of punitive action against permanent civil service employees, without
Turning first to petitioner's claims of denial of due process, we initially describe the pertinent statutory disciplinary procedure here under attack.
The California system of civil service employment has its roots in the state Constitution. Article XXIV, section 1, subdivision (b), describes the overriding goal of this program of state employment: "In the civil service permanent appointment and promotion shall be made under a general system based on merit...."
The procedure by which a permanent employee may be dismissed or otherwise disciplined is described in sections 19574 through 19588. Under section 19574,
Except in cases involving minor disciplinary matters,
In the case of an adverse decision by the Board, the employee may petition that body for a rehearing. (§ 19586.)
As previously indicated, petitioner asserts that this statutory procedure for taking punitive action against a permanent civil service employee violates due process of law as guaranteed by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and article I, sections 7 and 15 of the California Constitution. His contention is that these provisions authorize a deprivation of property without a prior hearing or, for that matter, without any of the prior procedural safeguards required by due process before a person may be subjected to such a taking at the hands of the state. As it is clear that California's statutory scheme does provide for an evidentiary hearing after the discipline is imposed (§§ 19578, 19580, 19581), we view the petitioner's constitutional attack as directed against that section which permits the punitive action to take effect without according the employee any prior procedural rights. (§ 19574; see fn. 12, ante.)
Our analysis of petitioner's contention proceeds in the light of a recent decision of the United States Supreme Court dealing with a substantially identical issue. In Arnett v. Kennedy (1974) 416 U.S. 134 [40 L.Ed.2d 15, 94 S.Ct. 1633], the high court was faced with a due process challenge to the provisions of the federal civil service act, entitled the Lloyd-LaFollette Act, regulating the disciplining of nonprobationary government employees. (5 U.S.C. § 7501.) Under that statutory scheme, a nonprobationary employee may be "removed or suspended without pay only for such cause as will promote the efficiency of the service." (5 U.S.C. § 7501 (a).) The same statute granting this substantive right to continued employment absent cause sets forth the procedural rights of an employee prior to discharge or suspension.
In a six to three decision, the court found the above procedure to be constitutional. However, the court's full decision is embodied in five opinions which reveal varying points of view among the different justices. As we proceed to consider petitioner's contention, we will attempt to identify the general principles which emerge from these opinions as well as from the other recent decisions of the court in the area of procedural due process and which are determinative of the matter before us.
Expanding upon its explanation, the Roth court noted: "To have a property interest in a benefit, a person clearly must have more than an abstract need or desire for it. He must have more than a unilateral expectation of it. He must, instead, have a legitimate claim of entitlement
"Property interests, of course, are not created by the Constitution. Rather, they are created and their dimensions are defined by existing rules or understandings that stem from an independent source such as state law — rules or understandings that secure certain benefits and that support claims of entitlement to those benefits." (Id., at p. 577 [33 L.Ed.2d at p. 561].)
The California Act endows state employees who attain permanent status with a substantially identical property interest. Such employees may not be dismissed or subjected to other disciplinary measures unless facts exist constituting "cause" for such discipline as defined in sections 19572 and 19573. In the absence of sufficient cause, the permanent employee has a statutory right to continued employment free of these
We therefore proceed to determine whether California's statutes governing such punitive action provide the minimum procedural safeguards mandated by the state and federal Constitutions. In the course of our inquiry, we will discuss recent developments in the area of procedural due process which outline a modified approach for dealing with such questions.
Until last year, the line of United States Supreme Court discussions beginning with Sniadach v. Family Finance Corp. (1969) 395 U.S. 337 [23 L.Ed.2d 349, 89 S.Ct. 1820], and continuing with Fuentes v. Shevin (1972) 407 U.S. 67 [32 L.Ed.2d 556, 92 S.Ct. 1983], and the line of California decisions following Sniadach and Fuentes adhered to a rather rigid and mechanical interpretation of the due process clause. Under these decisions, every significant deprivation — permanent or merely temporary — of an interest which qualified as "property" was required under the mandate of due process to be preceded by notice and a hearing absent "extraordinary" or "truly unusual" circumstances. (Fuentes v. Shevin, supra, 407 U.S. 67, 82, 88, 90-91 [32 L.Ed.2d 556, 570-571, 574-576]; Bell v. Burson (1971) 402 U.S. 535, 542 [29 L.Ed.2d 90, 96, 91 S.Ct. 1586]; Boddie v. Connecticut (1971) 401 U.S. 371, 378-379 [28 L.Ed.2d 113, 119-120, 91 S.Ct. 780]; Adams v. Department of Motor Vehicles (1974) 11 Cal.3d 146, 155 [113 Cal.Rptr. 145, 520 P.2d 961]; Brooks v. Small Claims Court (1973) 8 Cal.3d 661, 667-668 [105 Cal.Rptr. 785, 504 P.2d 1249]; Randone v. Appellate Department (1971) 5 Cal.3d 536, 547 [96 Cal.Rptr. 709, 488 P.2d 13]; Blair v. Pitchess (1971) 5 Cal.3d 258, 277 [96 Cal.Rptr. 42, 486 P.2d 1242, 45 A.L.R.3d 1206]; McCallop v. Carberry (1970) 1 Cal.3d 903, 907 [83 Cal.Rptr. 666, 464 P.2d 122].) These authorities uniformly held that such hearing must meet certain minimum procedural requirements including the right to appear personally before an impartial official, to confront and cross-examine adverse witnesses, to present favorable evidence and to be represented by counsel. (Brooks v. Small Claims Court, supra, 8 Cal.3d at pp. 667-668; Rios v. Cozens (1972) 7 Cal.3d 792, 798-799 [103 Cal.Rptr. 299, 499 P.2d 979], vacated sub nom. Dept. Motor Vehicles of California v. Rios (1973) 410 U.S. 425 [35 L.Ed.2d 398, 93 S.Ct. 1019], new dec. Rios v. Cozens (1973) 9 Cal.3d 454 [107 Cal.Rptr. 784, 509 P.2d 696]; see also Goldberg v. Kelly (1970) 397 U.S. 254, 267-271 [25 L.Ed.2d 287, 298-301, 90 S.Ct. 1011].)
These principles have been applied by the high court to measure the constitutional validity of state statutes granting creditors certain prejudgment summary remedies. In Mitchell v. W.T. Grant Co., supra, 416 U.S. 600,
This modified position of the United States Supreme Court regarding such due process questions has also extended to the form of the hearing required. In Goss v. Lopez, supra, 419 U.S. 565, the court held that Ohio public school students had a property as well as a liberty interest in their education and that they were therefore entitled to notice and hearing before they could be suspended or expelled from school. (Id., at pp. 574-581 [42 L.Ed.2d at pp. 734-739].) However, where the suspension was short, the court concluded that the required "hearing" need be only an informal discussion between student and disciplinarian, at which the student should be informed of his alleged misconduct and permitted to explain his version of the events. (Id., at pp. 581-582 [42 L.Ed.2d at p. 738-739].) Such a procedure, the court reasoned, "will provide a meaningful hedge against erroneous action." (Id., at p. 583 [42 L.Ed.2d at p. 740].) On the other hand, the court carefully pointed out the limitations on its holding: "We stop short of construing the Due Process
Our present task of determining the requirements of due process under the particular circumstances of the case at bench is made easier by the Supreme Court's decision in Arnett v. Kennedy, supra, 416 U.S. 134, upholding against constitutional attack the statutory procedure for the disciplining of nonprobationary federal civil service employees. Initially, we note that the rationale adopted by the plurality opinion of Justice Rehnquist, joined by the Chief Justice and Justice Stewart, would obviate the need for any balancing of competing interests. This rationale would apparently permit a state to narrowly circumscribe the procedures for depriving an individual of a statutorily created property right by simply establishing in the statute a procedural mechanism for its enforcement. (Id., at pp. 153-155 [40 L.Ed.2d at pp. 32-34].) In such instances, it is reasoned, the individual "must take the bitter with the sweet," that is, the substantive benefit of the statute together with the procedural mechanism it prescribes to safeguard that benefit. (Id., at pp. 153-154 [40 L.Ed.2d at pp. 32-33].) Under this rationale, it is arguable that California's procedure for disciplining civil service employees would withstand petitioner's due process attack, since the substantive right of a permanent state worker to continued employment absent cause (§ 19500) may be "inextricably intertwined [in the same set of statutes] with the limitations on the procedures which are to be employed in determining that right...." (Id., at pp. 153-154 [40 L.Ed.2d at p. 33].)
However, this theory was unequivocally rejected by the remaining six justices and indeed described by the dissenters as "a return, albeit in somewhat different verbal garb, to the thoroughly discredited distinction between rights and privileges which once seemed to govern the applicability of procedural due process. [Fn. omitted.]" (See Justice Marshall's dissenting opn. at p. 211 [40 L.Ed.2d at p. 66]; see also Justice
Where state procedures governing the taking of a property interest are at issue, all six justices were of the view that the existence of the interest is to be determined in the first place under applicable state law, but that the adequacy of the procedures is to be measured in the final analysis by applicable constitutional requirements of due process. (Id., at p. 167 [40 L.Ed.2d at pp. 40-41] (concurring opn., Justice Powell), p. 185 [40 L.Ed.2d p. 51] (concurring and dissenting opn., Justice White), p. 211 [40 L.Ed.2d p. 66] (dissenting opn., Justice Marshall).) "While the legislature may elect not to confer a property interest in ... [civil service] employment [fn. omitted], it may not constitutionally authorize the deprivation of such an interest, once conferred, without appropriate procedural safeguards." (Id., at p. 167 [40 L.Ed.2d at pp. 40-41] (concurring opn., Justice Powell); see also Justice White's concurring and dissenting opn. at p. 185 [40 L.Ed.2d at p. 51], and Justice Marshall's dissenting opn. at p. 211 [40 L.Ed.2d at p. 66].)
In Arnett, the remaining six justices were of the opinion that a full evidentiary "hearing must be held at some time before a competitive civil service employee maybe finally terminated for misconduct." (Id., at p. 185 [40 L.Ed.2d at p. 51], italics added (concurring and dissenting opn., Justice White); see also, Justice Powell's concurring opn. at p. 167 [40 L.Ed.2d at pp. 40-41], and Justice Marshall's dissenting opn. at p. 212 [40 L.Ed.2d at pp. 66-67].) The question then narrowed to whether such a hearing had to be afforded prior to the time that the initial removal decision became effective. (Id., at p. 167 [40 L.Ed.2d at pp. 40-41] (concurring opn., Justice Powell), p. 186 [40 L.Ed.2d at pp. 51-52] (concurring and dissenting opn., Justice White), p. 217 [40 L.Ed.2d at pp. 69-70] (dissenting opn., Justice Marshall).)
In resolving this question, the above justices utilized a balancing test, weighing "the Government's interest in expeditious removal of an unsatisfactory employee ... against the interest of the affected employee in continued public employment." (Id., at pp. 167-168 [40 L.Ed.2d at p. 41] (concurring opn., Justice Powell); see also Justice White's concurring and dissenting opn. at p. 188 [40 L.Ed.2d at pp. 52-53], and Justice Marshall's dissenting opn. at p. 212 [40 L.Ed.2d at pp. 66-67].) On one side was the government's interest in "the maintenance of employee efficiency and discipline. Such factors are essential if the Government is
Balanced against this interest of the government was the employee's countervailing interest in the continuation of his public employment pending an evidentiary hearing: "During the period of delay, the employee is off the Government payroll. His ability to secure other employment to tide himself over may be significantly hindered by the outstanding charges against him. [Fn. omitted.] Even aside from the stigma that attends a dismissal for cause, few employers will be willing to hire and train a new employee knowing that he will return to a former Government position as soon as an appeal is successful. [Fn. omitted.] And in many States, ... a worker discharged for cause is not even eligible for unemployment compensation. [Fn. omitted.]"
The justices reached varying conclusions in resolving this balancing process. Justice Powell, joined by Justice Blackmun, concluded that the federal discharge procedures comported with due process requirements. In reaching this result, however, he emphasized the numerous preremoval safeguards accorded the employee as well as the right to compensation
Justice White, concurring in part and dissenting in part, agreed that due process mandated some sort of preliminary notice and hearing, and similarly "conclude[d] that the statute and regulations provisions to the extent they require 30 days' advance notice and a right to make a written presentation satisfy minimum constitutional requirements." (Id., at pp. 195-196 [40 L.Ed.2d at p. 57].)
Justice Marshall, joined by Justices Douglas and Brennan, dissented, apparently adhering to the "former due process test" requiring an "unusually important governmental need to outweigh the right to a prior hearing."
California statutes governing punitive action provide the permanent employee with none of these prior procedural rights. Under section 19574, the appointing power is authorized to take punitive action against a permanent civil service employee by simply notifying him thereof. The statute specifies no particular form of notice, nor does it require advance warning. Thus, oral notification at the time of the discipline is apparently sufficient. (See 29 Ops.Cal.Atty.Gen. 115, 120 (1957), and Personnel Transactions Man., March 1972.) The employee need not be informed of the reasons for the discipline or of his right to a hearing until 15 days after the effective date of the punitive action. (§ 19574.) It is true that the employee is entitled to a full evidentiary hearing within a reasonable time thereafter (§ 19578), and is compensated for lost wages if the Board determines that the punitive action was improper. (§ 19584.) However, these postremoval safeguards do nothing to protect the employee who is wrongfully disciplined against the temporary deprivation of property to which he is subjected pending a hearing.
Defendants fail to persuade us to the contrary. Relying upon cases which antedate Arnett v. Kennedy, supra, 416 U.S. 134, defendants first contend that we must apply a different and less stringent standard of due
Defendants further contend that emergency circumstances may arise in which the immediate removal of an employee is essential to avert harm to the state or to the public. Adverting to section 19574.5,
Petitioner finally contends that the penalty of dismissal is clearly excessive and disproportionate to his alleged wrong. We agree.
Generally speaking, "[i]n a mandamus proceeding to review an administrative order, the determination of the penalty by the administrative body will not be disturbed unless there has been an abuse of its discretion." (Magit v. Board of Medical Examiners (1961) 57 Cal.2d 74, 87 [17 Cal.Rptr. 488, 366 P.2d 816]; see also Nightingale v. State Personnel Board (1972) 7 Cal.3d 507, 514-516 [102 Cal.Rptr. 758, 498 P.2d 1006]; Harris v. Alcoholic Bev. etc. Appeals Bd. (1965) 62 Cal.2d 589, 594 [43 Cal.Rptr. 633, 400 P.2d 745]; Martin v. Alcoholic Bev. etc. Appeals Bd. (1961) 55 Cal.2d 867, 876 [13 Cal.Rptr. 513, 362 P.2d 337].)
However, the record is devoid of evidence directly showing how petitioner's minor deviations from the prescribed time schedule adversely affected the public service.
Dr. Hale, senior medical consultant and petitioner's immediate supervisor for about 13 months, rated his work as good to superior, compared it favorably with that of other physicians in the office, and described him as efficient, productive, and the region's "right hand man" on ear, nose and throat problems. Two other employees who worked with petitioner testified that he was informative, cooperative, helpful,
In his proposed decision, adopted by the Board, the hearing officer stated: "Appellant is 64 years old, has had a long and honorable medical career and is now handicapped by serious sight and speech difficulties. Also, the Senior Medical Consultant has no complaints about appellant's work. [¶] Consideration of appellant's age, his physical problems, the lack of any apparent affect on his work and sympathy for the man and his family are all persuasive arguments in favor of finding that appellant be given just one more chance." In testifying, petitioner apologized for his conduct and promised to adhere strictly to the rules if given another opportunity to do so.
Our views on this issue should not be deemed, nor are they intended, to denigrate or belittle administrative interest in requiring strict compliance with work hour requirements. The fact that an employee puts in his 40 hours per week by rearranging his breaks to suit his personal convenience is not enough. An administrator may properly insist upon adherence to a prescribed time schedule, as this may well be essential to the maintenance of an efficient and productive office. Nor do we imply that an employee's failure to comply with the rules regulating office hours may not warrant punitive action, possibly in the form of dismissal, under the appropriate circumstances. Indeed, in the instant case, a less severe discipline is clearly justified; and we do not rule out the possibility of future dismissal if petitioner's transgressions persist.
However, considering all relevant factors in light of the overriding concern for averting harm to the public service, we are of the opinion that the Board clearly abused its discretion in subjecting petitioner to the most severe punitive action possible for his misconduct.
In sum, we conclude that the dismissal of petitioner was improper for two reasons: First, the procedure by which the discharge was effectuated denied him due process of law, as guaranteed by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, and article I, sections 7 and 15, of the California Constitution; second, the penalty of dismissal was clearly excessive and disproportionate to the misconduct on which it was based.
Therefore, upon remand the trial court should issue a peremptory writ of mandate directing the State Personnel Board to annul and set aside its
The judgment is reversed and the cause is remanded to the trial court for further proceedings in conformity with this opinion.
Wright, C.J., McComb, J., Tobriner, J., Mosk, J., Clark, J., and Molinari, J.,
Respondents' petition for a rehearing was denied October 15, 1975. Richardson, J., did not participate therein.
Hereafter, unless otherwise indicated, all section references are to the Government Code.
The Board's duties are set forth in article XXIV, section 3, subdivision (a), as follows: "The Board shall enforce the civil service statutes and, by majority vote of all of its members, shall prescribe probationary periods and classifications, adopt other rules authorized by statute, and review disciplinary actions."
Section 19571 is the provision establishing general authority to take punitive action: "In conformity with this article and board rule, punitive action may be taken against any employee, or person whose name appears on any employment list for any cause for discipline specified in this article."
In an opinion issued on March 26, 1953, the Attorney General described the "statement of causes" as follows: "Such statement of causes is not merely a statement of the statutory grounds for punitive action set forth in section 19572 but is a factual statement of the grounds of discipline which, although not necessarily pleaded with all the niceties of a complaint in a civil action or of an information or indictment in a criminal action, should be detailed enough to permit the employee to identify the transaction, to understand the nature of the alleged offense and to obtain and produce the facts in opposition [citations]." (See 21 Ops.Cal.Atty.Gen. 132, 137 (1953).)
"Salary shall not be authorized or paid for any portion of a period of punitive action that the employee was not ready, able, and willing to perform the duties of his position, whether such punitive action is valid or not or the causes on which it is based state facts sufficient to constitute cause for discipline.
"From any such salary due there shall be deducted compensation that the employee earned, or might reasonably have earned, during any period commencing more than six months after the initial date of the suspension."
"Within sixty days after service of notice of filing of a petition for rehearing, the board shall either grant or deny the petition in whole or in part. Failure to act upon a petition for rehearing within this sixty-day period is a denial of the petition."
The judicial review proceedings are governed by Code of Civil Procedure section 1094.5. (Boren v. State Personnel Board, supra, at p. 637.)
"If punitive action is not taken on or before the date such a leave is terminated, the leave shall be with pay.
"If punitive action is taken on or before the date such leave is terminated, the punitive action may be taken retroactive to any date on or after the date the employee went on leave. Notwithstanding the provisions of Section 19574, the punitive action, under such circumstances, shall be valid if written notice is served upon the employee and filed with the board not later than 15 calendar days after the employee is notified of the punitive action."