On 2/28/2012, Judge Cantrell ruled on the District’s Motion for Summary Judgment on Sisney’s breach of contract claim. He denied the motion, based mostly on the Scherich case cited by both sides. Click here to read the ruling.
At this point, the judge is not looking at whether the board was right or wrong in firing Sisney. He is looking only at whether Sisney has a right to bring this action. In his ruling, he points to both sides’ agreement (based on the Scherich case) that the Plaintiff still has a right to a remedy even when he knowingly waived his due process hearing.
The judge does not, however, rule that the court has the authority to retry the charges against Sisney and decide for the board whether they should have fired him. The judge refers to a “Scherich breach of contract claim” as the type of claim that can go forward in Sisney’s case. By this he means that the only thing that can be considered is whether the firing was based on actual evidence or whether the board arbitrarily fired Sisney out of spite and retaliation, as Sisney claims.
The judge follows a precedent set in the Hoerman case, in which the court ruled that the school board’s assertion that they had good cause was not enough to dismiss the breach of contract claim. He says that in Sisney’s case, the possible bias on the school board and their pretext for firing Sisney should be looked at.
This ruling may set a troubling precedent. Since the judge is allowing Sisney’s breach of contract claim to go forward even though Sisney knowingly waived his due process hearing, it may complicate termination procedures. From the District’s Response (click here for the full filing):
“To…permit the plaintiff through such a claim to now challenge the character of the evidence against him and the impartiality of the board that considered it, would green-light school administrators (and other such similarly-situated employees) to by-pass board hearings on their employment and to instead litigate all issues surrounding their dismissal in a court proceeding. Such a ruling would, simply, render meaningless the legislatively mandated finality of a board hearing and the decisions in Scherich and Hoerman addressing such finality.”
Does this mean that a public due process hearing must be held for every termination – whether the employee wants it or not? How can the school administration comply with this requirement and confidentiality laws? As much as we would have liked to hear the details around the board’s decision to terminate Sisney, it does not seem reasonable or fair to subject every school employee with this type of contract to the possibility of a public hearing divulging the details of their termination, on the grounds that they might try to put the decision in the hands of the courts rather than their employer.