Case name: Gilbert v. Homar, 520 U.S. 924 (1997).
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The discussed case was initiated by Richard J. Homar, a former police officer who, while still holding this position, was charged with a drug felony, causing his employer, East Stroudsburg University (ESU), to suspend the man without pay. The main issue stated by the respondent is the violation of the due process, which usually contains a predetermination hearing that would allow the man to tell his side of the story and timely notice before suspension coming into effect. Homar filed a suit under the civil action for deprivation of rights against ESU petitioners and claimed that their failure to notify him and allow him to tell his story violated the process of suspension.
Before the incident, Homar was employed at the university as a police officer. ESU is a part of Pennsylvania’s State System of Education (Gilbert v. Homar, 1997). On August 26, Homar was arrested by the state police and charged with drug possession and a conspiracy to violate the controlled substance law. Upon being informed about Homar’s arrest, ESU officials decided to suspend the respondent without notice.
Homar received a letter about his suspension a day after it has started. It remained in effect after the official investigation dismissed the respondent’s charges, and Homar was able to present his story on September 18. However, the information shared with the officials did not allow him to defend himself adequately. As a result, Homar was demoted and subjected to receiving back pay for the period of suspension. Notably, the court discussed the definition of a predetermination hearing, stating that its primary purpose is to establish a reason for a suspension.
The case explores the issue of whether the state violates the due process stated in the Fourteenth Amendment if it fails to provide a predetermination hearing and a timely notice to a public employee before suspending him/her without pay. Here, the rule of law is the Due Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which states that government officials cannot deprive individuals of life, property, or freedoms without any legally confirmed authorization.
Based on the given facts, the court noted that the respondent’s occupation significantly impacted the overall state of public trusting and respecting police officers. Therefore, if the ESU officials did not react to the accusations in time, the reputation of the state’s officials could have been damaged. Thus, a predetermination hearing was unnecessary as the police have already charged Homar. Moreover, the court concluded that the time during which Homar was suspended was not long, and the pay was provided to him after the suspension was lifted. Thus, his claims of being deprived of a vital necessity were not supported. The court ruled that a predetermination hearing is not required when sufficient reasons for suspending the employee exist.
Impact of the Case
The case of Gilbert v. Homar (1997) had a significant effect on the court’s understating of the predetermination hearing and its reasons. First of all, the court decided that preliminary discussions have one primary purpose – to understand whether employers have substantial evidence that fully supports the suspension or resignation of an individual under the investigation. Therefore, the respondent was able to construct a case that his rights were violated.
However, as the court pointed out, the drug raid by state police has already claimed against the respondent, and they accused him of a felony – a serious and valid reason for a person to be suspended. Although the accusation was later dismissed, the fact that a police officer could even be potentially engaged in unlawful practices could severely damage the state of public trust. Thus, the court concluded that a pre-suspension hearing is unnecessary if there is a sufficient reason for it to come into effect immediately.
Second, the idea of people’s personal needs was also explored as a result. As stated in the Fourteenth Amendment, people have the right to be notified of their wrongdoings prior to being deprived of a living essential such as property or freedom. In this case, the respondent claimed that pay which he was not receiving during the suspension was a vital part of his everyday life. However, the court noted that the time period of Homar not receiving pay was not long, and, in the end, he was given the amount of money he would earn while working as a police officer. Furthermore, the respondent’s question of whether he should have been suspended with pay was dismissed as well, as the court concluded that taxpayers’ money should not go towards an officer betraying the public trust by violating the law.
These two conclusions show that unlawful behavior of employees may deprive them of the right to be notified before being suspended, as it acts as a sufficient reason and eliminates the need for hearing their opinion at the beginning of an investigation. Moreover, one’s suspension is separated from termination as a less serious and temporary issue, which, therefore, reduces the importance of a preliminary hearing.
As the ability of the respondent to retain most of his health benefits was used as an argument in the case, it also shows that money may not be the main determining factor for further court decisions (Lee, 1998). As a result, the due process was explored in the case, affecting all future decisions to consider the reasons behind and the severity of employers’ decisions.
Gilbert v. Homar, 520 U.S. 924 (1997).
Lee, R. D. (1998). The murky world of due process in disciplining public employees: The Supreme Court’s ruling in Gilbert v. Homar. Journal of Individual Employment Rights, 7(3), 247-261.