(CN) – In the case of a suspended Pennsylvania fireman, the 3rd Circuit ruled that a collectively bargained employment contract is constitutionally protected property.
The Borough of Dunmore suspended Robert K. Dee as assistant fire chief after a preliminary determination that he lacked certain certification and training.
A letter leaked to the press resulted in news stories about the suspensions, which included a captain in the fire department.
Eight days later, Dee was reinstated after further research proved that he had completed the training, and that the certification didn’t apply to him.
Dee sued, alleging violations of the 1st, 5th and 14th Amendments. He argued that he retained a property interest “in not being suspended without just cause,” which would afford him procedural due process rights. He also alleged damage to his reputation in violation of the First Amendment.
The 3rd Circuit reversed the Pennsylvania federal court’s dismissal of the 1st and 14th Amendment counts.
Since Dee’s employment was governed by an AFL-CIO collective bargaining agreement, his employment contract did constitute a “property interest.”
On the 1st Amendment claim, the 3rd Circuit determined that damage to Dee’s reputation, along with his property interest, passed a “stigma-plus” test.
In examining what process is due and the substance behind the stigma, the 3rd Circuit remanded the case to district court.