MR. JUSTICE STEVENS delivered the opinion of the Court.
Acting on the recommendation of the Chief of Police, the City Manager of Marion, N. C., terminated petitioner's employment as a policeman without affording him a hearing to determine the sufficiency of the cause for his discharge. Petitioner brought suit contending
The questions for us to decide are (1) whether petitioner's employment status was a property interest protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment,
Petitioner was employed by the city of Marion as a probationary policeman on June 9, 1969. After six months he became a permanent employee. He was dismissed on March 31, 1972. He claims that he had either an express or an implied right to continued employment.
A property interest in employment can, of course, be created by ordinance, or by an implied contract.
On its face the ordinance on which petitioner relies may fairly be read as conferring such a guarantee. However, such a reading is not the only possible interpretation; the ordinance may also be construed as granting no right to continued employment but merely conditioning an employee's removal on compliance with certain specified procedures.
Under that view of the law, petitioner's discharge did not deprive him of a property interest protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.
Petitioner's claim that he has been deprived of liberty has two components. He contends that the reasons given for his discharge are so serious as to constitute a stigma that may severely damage his reputation in the community; in addition, he claims that those reasons were false.
In our appraisal of petitioner's claim we must accept his version of the facts since the District Court granted summary judgment against him.
In Board of Regents v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, we recognized that the nonretention of an untenured college teacher might make him somewhat less attractive to other employers, but nevertheless concluded that it would stretch the concept too far "to suggest that a person is deprived of `liberty' when he simply is not rehired in one job but remains as free as before to seek another." Id., at 575. This same conclusion applies to the discharge of a public employee whose position is terminable at the will of the employer when there is no public disclosure of the reasons for the discharge.
In this case the asserted reasons for the City Manager's decision were communicated orally to the petitioner in private and also were stated in writing in answer to interrogatories after this litigation commenced. Since the former communication was not made public, it cannot properly form the basis for a claim that petitioner's interest in his "good name, reputation, honor, or integrity"
Petitioner argues,however,that the reasons given for his discharge were false. Even so, the reasons stated to him in private had no different impact on his reputation than if they had been true. And the answers to his interrogatories, whether true or false, did not cause the discharge. The truth or falsity of the City Manager's statement determines whether or not his decision to discharge the petitioner was correct or prudent, but neither enhances nor diminishes petitioner's claim that his constitutionally protected interest in liberty has been impaired.
The federal court is not the appropriate forum in which to review the multitude of personnel decisions that are made daily by public agencies.
The judgment is affirmed.
MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN, with whom MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL concurs, dissenting.
Petitioner was discharged as a policeman on the grounds of insubordination, "causing low morale," and "conduct unsuited to an officer." Ante, at 343. It is difficult to imagine a greater "badge of infamy" that could be imposed on one following petitioner's calling; in a profession in which prospective employees are invariably investigated, petitioner's job prospects will be severely constricted by the governmental action in this case. Although our case law would appear to require that petitioner thus be accorded an opportunity "to clear his name" of this calumny, see e. g., Board of Regents v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 573, and n. 12 (1972); Arnett v. Kennedy, 416 U.S. 134, 157 (1974) (opinion
Paul v. Davis, 424 U.S. 693 (1976), a decision overtly hostile to the basic constitutional safeguards of the Due Process Clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments that I had hoped would be a "short-lived aberration," id., at 735 (BRENNAN, J., dissenting), held that the "interest in reputation asserted in [Paul] is neither `liberty' nor `property' guaranteed against state deprivation without due process of law." Id., at 712. Accordingly, it found inapplicable the rule that "[w]here a person's good name, reputation, honor, or integrity is at stake because of what the government is doing to him, notice and an opportunity to be heard are essential." Wisconsin v. Constantineau, 400 U.S. 433, 437 (1971), and cases cited therein. In so holding, the Court eviscerated the substance of a long line of prior cases, see, e. g., Anti-Fascist Comm. v. McGrath, 341 U.S. 123 (1951); Cafeteria Workers v. McElroy, 367 U.S. 886 (1961); Board of Regents v. Roth, supra, by confining their protection of "liberty" to situations in which the State inflicts damage to a government employee's "good name, reputation, honor,or integrity" in the process of terminating his employment. See Paul v. Davis, supra, at 708. Compare id., at 709, 710, with id., at 732-733 (BRENNAN, J., dissenting).
The Court purports to limit its holding to situations in which there is "no public disclosure of the reasons for the discharge," ante, at 348, but in this case the stigmatizing reasons have been disclosed, and there is no reason to believe that respondents will not convey these actual reasons to petitioner's prospective employers.
I also fully concur in the dissenting opinions of MR. JUSTICE WHITE and MR. JUSTICE BLACKMUN, which forcefully demonstrate the Court's error in holding that petitioner was not deprived of "property" without due process of law. I would only add that the strained reading of the local ordinance, which the Court deems to be "tenable," ante, at 347, cannot be dispositive of the existence vel non of petitioner's "property" interest. There is certainly a federal dimension to the definition of "property" in the Federal Constitution; cases such as Board of Regents v. Roth, supra, held merely that "property" interests encompass those to which a person has "a legitimate claim of entitlement," 408 U. S., at 577, and can arise from "existing rules or understandings" that derive from "an independent source such as state law." Ibid. (emphasis supplied). But certainly, at least before a state law is definitively construed as not securing a "property" interest, the relevant inquiry is whether it was objectively reasonable for the employee to believe he could rely on continued employment. Cf. ibid. ("It is a purpose of the ancient institution of property to protect those claims upon which people rely in their daily lives, reliance that must not be arbitrarily undermined."
These observations do not, of course, suggest that a "federal court is . . . the appropriate forum in which to review the multitude of personnel decisions that are made daily by public agencies." Ante, at 349. However, the federal courts are the appropriate forum for ensuring that the constitutional mandates of due process are followed by those agencies of government making personnel decisions that pervasively influence the lives of those affected thereby; the fundamental premise of the Due Process Clause is that those procedural safeguards will help the government avoid the "harsh fact" of "incorrect or ill-advised personnel decisions." Ante, at 350.
MR. JUSTICE WHITE, with whom MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN, MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL, and MR. JUSTICE BLACKMUN join, dissenting.
I dissent because the decision of the majority rests upon a proposition which was squarely addressed and in my view correctly rejected by six Members of this Court in Arnett v. Kennedy, 416 U.S. 134 (1974).
Petitioner Bishop was a permanent employee of the Police Department of the city of Marion, N. C. The city ordinance applicable to him provides:
The second sentence of this ordinance plainly conditions petitioner's dismissal on cause—i. e., failure to perform up to standard, negligence, inefficiency, or unfitness to perform the job. The District Court below did not otherwise construe this portion of the ordinance. In the only part of its opinion rejecting petitioner's claim that the ordinance gave him a property interest in his job,
Thus in concluding that petitioner had no "property interest" in his job entitling him to a hearing on discharge and that he held his position "at the will and pleasure of the city," ibid., the District Court relied on the fact that the ordinance described its own procedures for determining cause, which procedures did not include a hearing. The majority purports, ante, at 345, and n. 8, to read the District Court's opinion as construing the ordinance not to condition dismissal on cause, and, if this is what the majority means, its reading of the District Court's opinion is clearly erroneous for the reasons just stated.
The majority thus implicitly concedes that the ordinance supplies the "grounds" for discharge and that the City Manager must determine them to be "adequate" before he may fire an employee. The majority's holding that petitioner had no property interest in his job in spite of the unequivocal language in the city ordinance that he may be dismissed only for certain kinds of cause rests, then, on the fact that state law provides no procedures for assuring that the City Manager dismiss him only for cause. The right to his job apparently given by the first two sentences of the ordinance is thus redefined, according to the majority, by the procedures provided for in the third sentence and as redefined is infringed only if the procedures are not followed.
This is precisely the reasoning which was embraced by only three and expressly rejected by six Members of this Court in Arnett v. Kennedy, supra. There a federal employee had "a statutory expectancy that he not be removed other than for `such cause as will promote
The three Justices went on:
Accordingly they concluded that the Constitution imposed no independent procedural requirements.
This view was rejected by MR. JUSTICE POWELL in an opinion joined by MR. JUSTICE BLACKMUN.
I, too, disagreed with the view stated in MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST'S opinion:
The views now expressed by the majority are thus squarely contrary to the views expressed by a majority of the Justices in Arnett. As MR. JUSTICE POWELL suggested in Arnett, they are also "incompatible with the principles laid down in Roth and Sindermann."
MR. JUSTICE BLACKMUN, with whom MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN joins, dissenting.
I join MR. JUSTICE WHITE'S dissent for I agree that the Court appears to be adopting a legal principle which specifically was rejected by a majority of the Justices of this Court in Arnett v. Kennedy, 416 U.S. 134 (1974).
I also feel, however, that Still v. Lance, 279 N.C. 254, 182 S.E.2d 403 (1971), the only North Carolina case cited by the Court and by the District Court, is by no means the authoritative holding on state law that the Court, ante, at 345, and n. 9, seems to think it is. In Still the Supreme Court of North Carolina considered a statute that contained no "for cause" standard for failure to renew a teacher's contract at the end of a school year. In holding that this provision did not create a continued expectation of employment, the North Carolina court noted that it "does not limit the right of the employer board to terminate the employment of a teacher at the
The Marion ordinance in the present case contains a "for cause" standard for dismissal and, it seems to me, is like that portion of the statute construed in Still pertaining to termination of employment during the year. As such, it plainly does not subject an employee to termination at the will and pleasure of the municipality, but, instead, creates a proper expectation of continued employment so long as he performs his work satisfactorily. At this point, the Federal Constitution steps in and requires that appropriate procedures be followed before the employee may be deprived of his property interest.
"Dismissal. A permanent employee whose work is not satisfactory over a period of time shall be notified in what way his work is deficient and what he must do if his work is to be satisfactory. If a permanent employee fails to perform work up to the standard of the classification held, or continues to be negligent, inefficient, or unfit to perform his duties, he may be dismissed by the City Manager. Any discharged employee shall be given written notice of his discharge setting forth the effective date and reasons for his discharge if he shall request such a notice."
"It is clear from Article II, Section 6, of the City's Personnel Ordinance, that the dismissal of an employee does not require a notice or a hearing. Upon request of the discharged employee, he shall be given written notice of his discharge setting forth the effective date and the reasons for the discharge. It thus appears that both the city ordinance and the state law have been complied with.
"It further appears that the plaintiff held his position at the will and pleasure of the city." 377 F. Supp., at 504.
Similarly, here, I do not disagree with the majority or the courts below on the meaning of the state law. If I did, I might be inclined to defer to the judgments of the two lower courts. The state law says that petitioner may be dismissed by the City Manager only for certain kinds of cause and then provides that he will receive notice and an explanation, but no hearing and no review. I agree that as a matter of state law petitioner has no remedy no matter how arbitrarily or erroneously the City Manager has acted. This is what the lower courts say the statute means. I differ with those courts and the majority only with respect to the constitutional significance of an unambiguous state law. A majority of the Justices in Arnett v. Kennedy, stood on the proposition that the Constitution requires procedures not required by state law when the state conditions dismissal on "cause."