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Labor & Employment – Public Employees – Notice of Dismissal – Adequate Notice – Work History

Teresa Bruno, Opinions Editor//October 25, 2016//

Labor & Employment – Public Employees – Notice of Dismissal – Adequate Notice – Work History

Teresa Bruno, Opinions Editor//October 25, 2016//

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Heard-Leak v. N.C. State University Center for Urban Affairs (Lawyers Weekly No. 012-203-16, 15 pp.) (Ann Marie Calabria, J.) Appealed from the Office of Administrative Hearings. N.C. App. Unpub.

Holding: Even though the respondent-employer’s notice of dismissal letter did not include each and every item it considered in deciding to dismiss petitioner, the administrative law judge erred by prematurely granting summary judgment on the fact-specific legal question of whether petitioner was provided sufficient notice prior to her termination.

We reverse the grant of summary judgment for petitioner and remand.

Respondent’s Sept. 17, 2014, dismissal letter described petitioner’s acts and omissions with sufficient particularity to notify her precisely what acts or omissions were the basis of her discharge. The evidence, taken in the light most favorable to respondent, indicates that petitioner (1) had notice of her unsatisfactory performance review for the 2013-2014 cycle; (2) was put on a performance improvement plan that specifically outlined what she needed to do to improve her job performance and avoid disciplinary action; (3) participated in ongoing progress meetings where she received feedback, guidance, and counseling; (4) was given two detailed written warnings describing her specific failures to meet work expectations; (5) received a pre-disciplinary conference letter informing her that dismissal was being considered due to her ongoing unsatisfactory job performance; and (6) participated in the pre-disciplinary conference that was held prior to her dismissal. Based on this evidence, petitioner was not deprived of her ability to prepare an effective defense or effectively appeal her discharge. Petitioner received repeated notice that she was not performing at the expected level.

Part of the ALJ’s reason for granting summary judgment was “Considerable information concerning Petitioner’s work history with Respondent … was considered by Respondent in making the decision to terminate Petitioner.” Our Supreme Court recently listed an employee’s “work history” as one of multiple factors deemed an “appropriate and necessary component of a decision to impose discipline [for just cause] upon a career State employee….” Wetherington v. N.C. Dep’t of Pub. Safety, 368 N.C. 583, 780 S.E.2d 543 (2015).

Furthermore, although a career state employee is entitled to adequate notice of the rationale underlying a disciplinary action, she is not entitled to notice of every single piece of evidence supporting the decision. Therefore, respondent acted well within its authority to consider petitioner’s work history when determining whether just cause existed to terminate her employment.

Reversed and remanded.

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