Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Independent School District No. 12, et al.,
Filed March 10, 1998
Joseph E. Flynn, Marie C. Skinner, Knutson, Flynn, Deans & Olsen, P.A., 1900 Minnesota World Trade Center, 30 East 7th Street, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for respondents)
Considered and decided by Willis, Presiding Judge, Lansing, Judge, and Davies, Judge.
Relators appeal from respondent school board's decision to not renew relator Terri Lee Bradley's employment as the school district's Title IX Indian education program coordinator, arguing that the decision was based on an error of law and was unreasonable. We affirm.
In early 1997, the school board requested an investigation of Bradley's job performance. The school district's investigator contacted each of the parents on the parent committee individually in connection with the investigation. In May 1997, respondent John McClellan, the school district superintendent, twice invited Bradley to meet with him to review the results of the investigation, which "raised serious questions regarding [Bradley's] job performance." Bradley refused to meet with McClellan, and she requested that all findings and concerns be submitted to her in writing.
By facsimile and letter dated July 17, 1997, McClellan told Bradley that he would recommend nonrenewal of her employment to the school board at its meeting on August 4, 1997. McClellan attached a list of 11 examples of what he called Bradley's insubordination, neglect of duty, and unprofessional conduct. They included her lack of visibility in schools, her refusal to meet with or accept phone calls from her supervisor, and her refusal to return official student data to the school district. By facsimile and letter dated July 24, 1997, Bradley's counsel denied McClellan's charges without specifically addressing any and argued that (1) she was being denied procedural due process because the school district failed to follow the procedures in the parent-committee bylaws, and (2) the proposed action was in retaliation for allegations of misconduct she made against four school administrators, including McClellan, in 1995 and 1996.
Both Bradley and her attorney attended the August 4 board meeting, and her attorney addressed the school board before its vote. The board adopted McClellan's recommendation to not renew Bradley's employment. This certiorari appeal followed.
I. Procedural Due Process
Relators claim that Bradley was denied due process. Procedural due process requirements apply only to the "deprivation of interests encompassed by the Fourteenth Amendment's protection of liberty and property." Board of Regents v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 569, 92 S. Ct. 2701, 2705 (1972). A public employee with a constitutionally protected property interest in his or her employment is entitled to notice and an opportunity to respond prior to termination of that employment. Cleveland Bd. of Educ. v. Loudermill, 470 U.S. 532, 542, 105 S. Ct. 1487, 1493 (1985). To have a property interest in employment, a person must have more than an "abstract need or desire" for the employment or a "unilateral expectation of it." Roth, 408 U.S. at 577, 92 S. Ct. at 2709. Rather, there must be "a legitimate claim of entitlement" to the employment. Id. The creation and dimensions of property rights are "defined by existing rules or understandings that stem from an independent source such as state law--rules or understandings that secure certain benefits and that support claims of entitlement to those benefits." Id.
In the absence of a property interest in continued employment, a public employee is not entitled to notice or a hearing before termination of that employment. See In re Termination of Coaching Contract of Hahn, 386 N.W.2d 789, 791 (Minn. App. 1986) (holding statutory notice and hearing requirements not applicable in public school district's decision to not renew coach's yearly contract), review denied (Minn. July 31, 1986).
Like the coach's employment in Hahn, Bradley's position was not protected by statutory notice and hearing requirements. The Hahn court found that the school district's letter notifying the coach that "his contract had not been renewed because of a vote of the school board" was sufficient notice and that "no hearing was mandated." Id. at 791.
Bradley and the parent committee argue that Bradley had a property interest in her employment because the school district had rehired her for each of six years. But serial renewal of annual employment does not create a property interest in continued employment. See id. at 789, 791 (finding no hearing required for school district's nonrenewal of coach's yearly contract although it had been renewed annually for ten years).
Relators also argue that the school district was required to follow the procedure described in the parent-committee bylaws before it could terminate Bradley's employment and its failure to follow the procedure denied her due process. The parent-committee bylaws provide:
In cases involving involuntary termination of employment the Director of Instruction in conjunction with the Title IX Parent Committee and Building Administrators shall prepare recommendations and forward this information to the Director of Personnel who will present the documentation to the District #12 School Board for final action.
But federal law does not require the procedures that the parent committee adopted or require that parent committees be involved in school district employment termination decisions relating to the Indian education program. Rather, the statute provides that grant recipients, such as the school district, must create policies and procedures, including those regarding the hiring of personnel, that
will ensure that the program for which assistance is sought will be operated and evaluated in consultation with, and with the involvement of, parents of the children, and representatives of the area, to be served[.]
20 U.S.C. § 7814(c)(4)(C) (1994). Furthermore, the parent-committee bylaws govern the conduct of the committee's activities, not the school district's actions. See 20 U.S.C. § 7814(c)(4)(E) (1994) (providing that parent committee must develop "reasonable bylaws for the conduct of the activities of the committee"). The parent-committee bylaws provide that the parent committee "shall act in an advisory relationship" with school administrators. Nothing in the bylaws or in federal law requires that the school district abide by the parent committee's recommendations. Federal law requires consultation with the parent committee, and the school district did consult with all of the parent members of the committee.
Relators do not claim that the school district would have decided differently if the procedures in the parent-committee bylaws had been strictly followed. Relators bear the burden of demonstrating that if there was an error, it was prejudicial. See Bloom v. Hydrotherm, Inc., 499 N.W.2d 842, 845 (Minn. App. 1993), review denied (Minn. June 28, 1993) (holding that appellants bear burden of showing district court error and that error caused prejudice).
We conclude that Bradley had no property interest in continued employment with the school district and that the process afforded her was more than was required. The school district gave Bradley written notice of the action to be proposed to the school board, which included a list of reasons for the proposed nonrenewal of her employment, and an opportunity to respond in writing, and it gave Bradley the opportunity to address the school board at the meeting at which it took action on the nonrenewal of her employment.
II. Reasonableness of School Board's Decision
Bradley and the parent committee also argue that the school board's decision was fraudulent, arbitrary, unreasonable, and unsupported by substantial evidence. There is nothing in the record to suggest the decision was fraudulent, arbitrary, or unreasonable, and the record clearly supports the school district's findings.
We conclude that the school board's decision not to renew Bradley's employment was reasonable and supported by substantial evidence.
[ ]1 Relators do not argue retaliatory discharge in this appeal.