If You Offer Due Process Rights, Be Sure to Follow Them

Public Sector.BlogJill Mancini was an attorney working for Northampton County in Pennsylvania. Her employer discharged her, telling her it was part of a re-organization of her department. Mancini sued, arguing that as a career service employee entitled to due process, she was entitled to a pre-termination hearing, and the re-organization was merely a sham to discharge her for performance issues. 

The County argued that reorganization was the valid reason for her termination. Moreover, there was a “reorganization exception,” according to the County, under which no due process was required. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed and found that the County violated her due process rights. Mancini v. Northampton Cty. (3d Cir. 2016).

This was a case of first impression for the court, which had never addressed the possibility of a reorganization exception to the due process requirement. The court did allow for a future, limited exception in a case with different facts where there would be “a legitimate person-neutral reorganization,” but that wasn’t true here. Instead, the court found that the County offered no cost-saving justification and did not allow Mancini the opportunity to move to any open position, as might be expected.

The court’s concern was that Mancini was discharged due to her “personal performance,” and the reorganization was a mere pretext for firing her. The court thought that creating a reorganization exception would enable employers to “eviscerate a public employee’s procedural due process rights altogether.” Whenever an employer with due process requirements wanted to discharge an employee, the court feared, it could avoid a post-termination hearing under the guise of a reorganization.

While the Third Circuit is not binding on the Western region of the U.S., it may be that the Fifth, Eighth, Ninth, and Tenth Circuits agree with this ruling. If you provide procedural due process rights to your employees, it is best to follow them.