PHA Director Not Liable for Wrongful Termination
Facts: A PHA employee who served as a maintenance manager filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the PHA’s director. In June 1990, the employee was hired by the PHA and worked as a maintenance manager until his termination in March 2007. The employee claimed that his employment was uneventful, with no performance issues or disciplinary action, until early 2007. At that time, HUD placed the PHA in receivership and appointed the director to supervise daily operations.
The employee alleged that, in January 2007, the director, as his “immediate supervisor,” issued an inter-office memorandum suspending him from employment from Jan. 22, 2007, to Feb. 2, 2007. According to the employee, the memorandum wrongfully blamed him for the housing deficiencies that were cited by federal officials during their visit to the PHA’s sites.
The employee filed a grievance but was dissatisfied with the results of the grievance hearing. He then alleged that, pursuant to the PHA’s personnel policies and procedures, he should’ve received a written response to his appeal within five working days after the hearing, but he did not.
Shortly thereafter, due to being “physically and mentally affected” by the PHA’s alleged denial of his due process rights and the opportunity to be heard,” his treating physician placed him on medical leave. When he returned to work, he was served with a Notice of Personnel Action, notifying him that he had been terminated from his position.
The employee sued the director for alleged due process violations and for allegedly conspiring to deprive him of equal protection as an employee. The director asked the court to dismiss the employee’s complaints.
Ruling: The U.S. District Court for the District of the Virgin Islands granted the director’s request and dismissed the employee’s complaints.
Reasoning: The court rejected the employee’s claim that his due process rights were violated because he “should have received a written response to his appeal within five working days after the hearing” pursuant to the PHA’s policies and procedures. The employee’s complaint didn’t contain any allegations of the director’s role in the apparent failure to provide the employee with a written response. Moreover, the court couldn’t discern from the allegations how the alleged failure to receive a written response within five days adversely affected the employee, or how that failure had due process constitutional implications. In order to state a due process claim against an individual government defendant under both 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 and the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, the employee had to allege that the director was personally involved in the misconduct.
In addition to the due process claim, the employee’s second cause of action that the director conspired to deprive him of “equal protection ... with respect to his rights as an employee” of the PHA also failed. He needed to “demonstrate that he received different treatment from that received by other individuals similarly situated. The employee’s complaint is devoid of any allegation that he was treated differently from other similarly situated people in general, or with regard to his suspension and termination in particular. It also contains no allegation that he was discriminated against on any ground, which caused him to receive different treatment from others similarly situated.
- Smith v. Hood, May 2016