MR. CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court.
We granted certiorari in this case to determine whether School Board members, vested by state law with the
The petitioners are a Wisconsin school district, the seven members of its School Board, and three administrative employees of the district. Respondents are teachers suing on behalf of all teachers in the district and the Hortonville Education Association (HEA), the collective-bargaining agent for the district's teachers.
During the 1972-1973 school year Hortonville teachers worked under a master collective-bargaining agreement; negotiations were conducted for renewal of the contract, but no agreement was reached for the 1973-1974 school year. The teachers continued to work while negotiations proceeded during the year without reaching agreement. On March 18, 1974, the members of the teachers' union went on strike, in direct violation of Wisconsin law. On March 20, the district superintendent sent all teachers a letter inviting them to return to work; a few did so. On March 23, he sent another letter, asking the 86 teachers still on strike to return, and reminding them that strikes by public employees were illegal; none of these teachers returned to work. After conducting classes with substitute teachers on March 26 and 27, the Board decided to conduct disciplinary hearings for each of the teachers on strike. Individual notices were sent to each teacher setting hearings for April 1, 2, and 3.
On April 1, most of the striking teachers appeared before the Board with counsel. Their attorney indicated that the teachers did not want individual hearings, but preferred to be treated as a group. Although counsel agreed that the teachers were on strike, he raised several procedural objections to the hearings. He
On April 2, the Board voted to terminate the employment of striking teachers, and advised them by letter to that effect. However, the same letter invited all teachers on strike to reapply for teaching positions. One teacher accepted the invitation and returned to work; the Board hired replacements to fill the remaining positions.
Respondents then filed suit against petitioners in state court, alleging, among other things, that the notice and hearing provided them by the Board were inadequate to comply with due process requirements. The trial court granted the Board's motion for summary judgment on the due process claim. The court found that the teachers, although on strike, were still employees of the Board under Wisconsin law and that they retained a property interest in their positions under this Court's decisions in Perry v. Sindermann, 408 U.S. 593 (1972), and Board of Regents v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564 (1972). The court concluded that the only question before the Board on April 1 and 2 was whether the teachers were on strike in violation of state law, and that no evidence in mitigation was relevant. It rejected their claim that they were denied due process, since the teachers admitted they were on strike after receiving adequate notice and a hearing,
On appeal, the Wisconsin Supreme Court reversed, 66 Wis.2d 469, 225 N.W.2d 658 (1975). On the single issue now presented it held that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Federal Constitution required that the teachers' conduct and the Board's response be evaluated by an impartial decisionmaker other than the Board. The rationale of the Wisconsin Supreme Court appears to be that although the teachers had admitted being on strike, and although the strike violated Wisconsin law, the Board had available other remedies than dismissal, including an injunction prohibiting the strike, a call for mediation, or continued bargaining. Relying on our holding in Morrissey v. Brewer, 408 U.S. 471 (1972), the Wisconsin court then held "it would seem essential, even in cases of undisputed or stipulated facts, that an impartial decision maker be charged with the responsibility of determining what action shall be taken on the basis of those facts." 66 Wis. 2d, at 493, 225 N. W. 2d, at 671. The court held that the Board was not sufficiently impartial to make this choice: "The background giving rise to the ultimate facts in this case reveals a situation not at all conducive to detachment and impartiality on the part of the school board." Ibid. In reaching its conclusion, the court acknowledged that the Board's decision could be reviewed in other forums; but no reviewing body would give the teachers an opportunity to demonstrate that "another course of action such as mediation, injunction, continued collective bargaining or arbitration would have been a more reasonable response on the part of the decision maker." Id., at 496, 225 N. W. 2d, at 672.
Since it concluded that state law provided no adequate remedy, the Wisconsin Supreme Court fashioned one it thought necessary to comply with federal due process
We granted certiorari because of the state court's reliance on federal due process. 423 U.S. 821 (1975). We reverse.
The Hortonville School District is a common school district under Wisconsin law, financed by local property taxes and state school aid and governed by an elected seven-member School Board. Wis. Stat. Ann. §§ 120.01, 120.03, 120.06 (1973). The Board has broad power over "the possession, care, control and management of the property and affairs of the school district." § 120.12 (1); see also §§ 120.08, 120.10, 120.15-120.17. The Board negotiates terms of employment with teachers under the Wisconsin Municipal Employment Relations Act, § 111.70 et seq. (1974), and contracts with individual teachers on behalf of the district. The Board is the only body vested by statute with the power to employ and dismiss teachers. § 118.22 (2).
Respondents argue, and the Wisconsin Supreme Court held, that the choice presented for the Board's decision is analogous to that involved in revocation of parole in Morrissey v. Brewer, supra, that the decision could be made only by an impartial decisionmaker, and that the Board was not impartial. In Morrissey the Court considered a challenge to state procedures employed in revoking the parole of state prisoners. There we noted that the parole revocation decision involved two steps: First, an inquiry whether the parolee had in fact violated the conditions of his parole; second, determining whether the violations found were serious enough to justify revocation of parole and the consequent deprivation of the parolee's conditional liberty. With respect to the second step, the Court observed:
Nothing in this case is analogous to the first step in Morrissey, since the teachers admitted to being on strike. But respondents argue that the School Board's decision in this case is, for constitutional purposes, the same as the second aspect of the decision to revoke parole. The Board cannot make a "reasonable" decision on this issue, the Wisconsin Supreme Court held and respondents argue,
Morrissey arose in a materially different context. We recognized there that a parole violation could occur at a place distant from where the parole revocation decision would finally be made; we also recognized the risk of factual error, such as misidentification. To minimize this risk, we held: "[D]ue process requires that after the
Respondents' argument rests in part on doctrines that have no application to this case. They seem to argue that the Board members had some personal or official stake in the decision whether the teachers should be dismissed, comparable to the stake the Court saw in Tumey v. Ohio, 273 U.S. 510 (1927), or Ward v. Village of Monroeville, 409 U.S. 57 (1972); see also Gibson v. Berryhill, 411 U.S. 564 (1973), and that the Board has manifested some personal bitterness toward the teachers, aroused by teacher criticism of the Board during the strike, see, e. g., Taylor v. Hayes, 418 U.S. 488 (1974); Mayberry v. Pennsylvania, 400 U.S. 455 (1971). Even assuming that those cases state the governing standards when the decisionmaker is a public employer dealing with employees, the teachers did not show, and the Wisconsin courts did not find, that the Board members
The only other factor suggested to support the claim of bias is that the School Board was involved in the negotiations that preceded and precipitated the striking teachers' discharge. Participation in those negotiations was a statutory duty of the Board. The Wisconsin Supreme Court held that this involvement, without more,
Mere familiarity with the facts of a case gained by an agency in the performance of its statutory role does not, however, disqualify a decisionmaker. Withrow v. Larkin, 421 U.S. 35, 47 (1975); FTC v. Cement Institute, 333 U.S. 683, 700-703 (1948). Nor is a decisionmaker disqualified simply because he has taken a position, even in public, on a policy issue related to the dispute, in the absence of a showing that he is not "capable of judging a particular controversy fairly on the basis of its own circumstances." United States v. Morgan, 313 U.S. 409, 421 (1941); see also FTC v. Cement Institute, supra, at 701.
Respondents' claim and the Wisconsin Supreme Court's holding reduce to the argument that the Board was biased because it negotiated with the teachers on behalf of the school district without reaching agreement and learned about the reasons for the strike in the course of negotiating. From those premises the Wisconsin court concluded that the Board lost its statutory power to determine that the strike and persistent refusal to terminate it amounted to conduct serious enough to warrant discharge of the strikers. Wisconsin statutes
Due process, as this Court has repeatedly held, is a term that "negates any concept of inflexible procedures universally applicable to every imaginable situation." Cafeteria Workers v. McElroy, 367 U.S. 886, 895 (1961). Determining what process is due in a given setting requires the Court to take into account the individual's stake in the decision at issue as well as the State's interest in a particular procedure for making it. See Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319 (1976); Arnett v. Kennedy, 416 U.S. 134, 168 (1974) (POWELL, J., concurring); id., at 188 (WHITE, J., concurring and dissenting); Goldberg v. Kelly, 397 U.S. 254, 263-266 (1970). Our assessment of the interests of the parties in this case leads to the conclusion that this is a very different case from Morrissey v. Brewer, and that the Board's prior role as negotiator does not disqualify it to decide that the public interest in maintaining uninterrupted classroom work required that teachers striking in violation of state law be discharged.
The teachers' interest in these proceedings is, of course, self-evident. They wished to avoid termination of their employment, obviously an important interest, but one that must be examined in light of several factors. Since the teachers admitted that they were engaged in a work stoppage, there was no possibility of an erroneous factual determination on this critical threshold issue. Moreover,
The governmental interests at stake in this case also differ significantly from the interests at stake in Morrissey. The Board's decision whether to dismiss striking teachers involves broad considerations, and does not in the main turn on the Board's view of the "seriousness" of the teachers' conduct or the factors they urge mitigated their violation of state law. It was not an adjudicative decision, for the Board had an obligation to make a decision based on its own answer to an important question of policy: What choice among the alternative responses to the teachers' strike will best serve the interests of the school system, the interests of the parents and children who depend on the system, and the interests of the citizens whose taxes support it? The Board's decision was only incidentally a disciplinary decision; it had significant governmental and public policy dimensions as well. See Summers, Public Employee Bargaining: A Political Perspective, 83 Yale L. J. 1156 (1974).
State law vests the governmental, or policymaking, function exclusively in the School Board and the State has two interests in keeping it there. First, the Board is the body with overall responsibility for the governance of the school district; it must cope with the myriad day-to-day
Respondents have failed to demonstrate that the decision to terminate their employment was infected by the sort of bias that we have held to disqualify other decisionmakers as a matter of federal due process. A
The judgment of the Wisconsin Supreme Court is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.
Reversed and remanded.
MR. JUSTICE STEWART, with whom MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN and MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL join, dissenting.
The issue in this case is whether the discharge of the respondent teachers by the petitioner School Board violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because the Board members were not impartial decisionmakers. It is now well established that "a biased decisionmaker [is] constitutionally unacceptable [and] `our system of law has always endeavored to prevent even the probability of unfairness.' " Withrow v. Larkin, 421 U.S. 35, 47, quoting In re Murchison, 349 U.S. 133, 136.
In order to ascertain whether there is a constitutionally unacceptable danger of partiality, both the nature of the particular decision and the interest of the decisionmaker in its outcome must be examined. Here, Wisconsin law controls the factors that must be found before a teacher may be discharged for striking. The parties present sharply divergent views of what the Wisconsin law requires. The petitioners claim that the decision to
The Court acknowledges, as it must, that it is "bound to accept the interpretation of Wisconsin law by the highest court of the State." Ante, at 488. Yet it then proceeds to reverse that court by assuming, as the petitioners urge, that under Wisconsin law the determination to discharge the striking teachers only "involved the [Board's] exercise of its discretion as to what should be done to carry out the duties the law placed on the Board." Ibid. It dismisses the respondents' version of Wisconsin law in a footnote. Ante, at 490 n. 3.
But the fact is that the Wisconsin Supreme Court has not clearly delineated the state-law criterion that governs the discharge of striking teachers, and this Court is wholly without power to resolve that issue of state law. I would therefore remand this case to the Wisconsin Supreme Court for it to determine whether, on the one hand, the School Board is charged with considering the reasonableness of the strike in light of its own actions, or is, on the other, wholly free, as the Court today assumes, to exercise its discretion in deciding whether to discharge the teachers.
Under the petitioners' view of the Wisconsin law, the discharge determination is purely a policy judgment involving an assessment of the best interest of the school system. Since that judgment does not require the Board to assess its own conduct during the negotiations, and since there is no indication that the Board members have a financial or personal interest in its outcome, the only basis for a claim of partiality rests on the Board's knowledge of the events leading to the strike acquired through its participation in the negotiation process. As
But a distinctly different constitutional claim is presented if, as the respondents contend, the School Board members must evaluate their own conduct in determining whether dismissal is a reasonable sanction to impose on the striking teachers. Last Term in Withrow v. Larkin, supra, the Court noted that "[a]llowing a decisionmaker to review and evaluate his own prior decisions raises problems that are not present" where the bias issue rests exclusively on familiarity with the facts of a case. 421 U. S., at 58 n. 25. Apart from considerations of financial interest or personal hostility, the Court has found that officials "directly involved in making recommendations cannot always have complete objectivity in evaluating them." Morrissey v. Brewer, 408 U.S. 471, 486. See Goldberg v. Kelly, 397 U.S. 254.
"[U]nder a realistic appraisal of psychological tendencies and human weakness," Withrow v. Larkin, supra, at 47, I believe that there is a constitutionally unacceptable danger of bias where school board members are required to assess the reasonableness of their own actions during heated contract negotiations that have culminated in a teachers' strike. If, therefore, the respondents' interpretation of the state law is correct, then I would agree with the Wisconsin Supreme Court that "the board was not an impartial decision maker in a constitutional sense and that the [teachers] were denied due process of law." 66 Wis.2d 469, 494, 225 N.W.2d 658, 671.
For the reasons stated, I would vacate the judgment before us and remand this case to the Supreme Court of Wisconsin.
We are not required to determine whether the notice and hearing afforded by the Board, as matters separate from the Board's ability fairly to decide the issue before it, were adequate to afford respondents due process. Respondents do not suggest here that the notice they received was constitutionally inadequate, and they refused to treat the dismissals on a case-by-case basis.