Cleveland Board of Education v. Loudermill

In Cleveland Board of Education v. Loudermill (1985), the Supreme Court specified the right of educational employees to some kind of pretermination notice as part of due process that must be given as part of educational performance assessment. In addition to notice of the intended action and the rationale for that action, board officials must also afford school employees a chance to present their side of the issue. This entry discusses Loudermill, the Court’s opinion, and its impact.

Facts of the Case

Loudermill involves a security guard named James Loudermill, who was hired by the Cleveland Board of Education in 1979 after completing an application form on which he indicated that he had never been convicted of a felony. When board officials learned that Loudermill had, in fact, been convicted of grand larceny in 1968, he was dismissed in November of 1980 for not being honest on his application. Prior to Loudermill, many administrators would have considered this a clear case in which the board should have been able to dismiss the employee without the trouble of a hearing or the need to allow the employee the right to present his or her side of the issue. The problem, however, arises not in whether the substance of a board’s action to terminate an employee’s job was correct, but whether the process by which it was completed was proper.

Loudermill initially appealed his dismissal to the Civil Service Commission (CSC), because, as a “classified civil servant,” Ohio law entitled him to an administrative review of his dismissal for cause. A referee appointed by the CSC recommended reinstatement on the basis of Loudermill’s argument that he should have been given the opportunity to explain that he was not dishonest, insofar as he thought that the conviction was only a misdemeanor and not a felony. However, the full commission overturned the referee’s action and upheld the dismissal. It took nine months for this to happen, which Loudermill claimed was too long.

Even so, a federal trial court held that due to a heavy docket, the delay was acceptable. The Sixth Circuit found that the board of education did not provide procedural due process in “that the compelling private interest in retaining employment, combined with the value of presenting evidence prior to dismissal, outweighed the added administrative burden of a pretermination hearing” (p. 4). On further review, the Supreme Court affirmed this finding.

The Court’s Ruling

In Loudermill, Justice White, delivering the opinion of the Court, clearly stated that rights to life, liberty, and property cannot be compromised without “constitutionally adequate” procedures. That Loudermill had a property interest seems not to be disputed, but the argument was over the procedures that would be required to impinge on that interest. The Court noted that federal law mandates some minimal requirements, regardless of what state law may say. The Court said: “We have described ‘the root requirement’ of the Due Process Clause as being ‘that an individual be given the opportunity for a hearing before he is deprived of any significant property interest’” (Boddie v. Connecticut, cited in Loudermill, p. 5).

The Court balanced Loudermill’s property interest in his job against “the governmental interest in the expeditious removal of unsatisfactory employees and the avoidance of administrative burdens, and the risk of an erroneous termination” (p. 6). Given the facts of case, the Court would not rule on whether the substance of the decision was correct; however, the decision said that Loudermill was entitled to due process, even if he would be dismissed anyway. The “public employee is entitled to oral or written notice of the charges against him, and explanation of the employer’s evidence, and an opportunity to present his side of the story” (p. 7), the Court said.

What Loudermill means to educators, especially school administrators, is that no matter what the facts are, employees who are being dismissed have a right to be heard. Therefore, even if an employee’s actions are so unprofessional or offensive that officials are certain that they will lead to dismissal, they must still afford individuals due process. Put another way, officials can dismiss employees for cause but must first afford them the opportunity to be heard.

A. William Place

See also Due Process Rights: Teacher Dismissal

Further Readings

  • Dickinson, R. J., & Schmitz, P. J. (2005). Nonrenewing employees. Columbus: Ohio School Boards Association. 
  • Van Berkum, D. W., Richardson, M. D., Broe, K., & Lane, K. E. (2005). Teacher dismissal. In K. E. Lane, M. J. Connelly, J. F. Mead, M. A. Gooden, & S. Eckes (Eds.), The principal’s legal handbook (pp. 289–300). Dayton, OH: Education Law Association
  • Young, I. P. (2008). The human resource function in educational administration (9th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall. 

Legal Citations

  • Cleveland Board of Education v. Loudermill, 470 U.S. 532 (1985).