When the Lockland School District Board of Education received notice from the Ohio Department of Education that its employees reported false information related to student attendance data to improve the District’s rating on its state report card, an internal investigation focused upon and then implicated Data Coordinator Adam Stewart, a non-teaching employee. Mr. Stewart demanded a pre-termination hearing at a public board meeting, based upon language in the Ohio Public Meetings Act, Revised Code (“R.C.”) Section 121.22, which allows public bodies to meet in executive session, not open to the public, to discuss, among other things, the dismissal of a public employee, “unless the employee requests a public hearing.”
The Court held that, as a non-teaching employee, whose contractual rights are governed by R.C. Section 3319.081, Mr. Stewart was subject to termination based upon “incompetency, inefficiency, dishonesty, drunkenness, immoral conduct, insubordination, discourteous treatment of the public, neglect of duty, or any other acts of misfeasance, malfeasance, or nonfeasance.” For purposes of due process, the Court noted that, prior to termination, a public employee who has a property right in his employment is entitled to a pre-termination hearing, “though that hearing need not be ‘elaborate’ and ‘need not definitively resolve the propriety of the discharge.” All that is required is oral or written notice of the charges against him, an explanation of the employer’s evidence, and an opportunity to present his side of the story. The Court further found that because R.C. Section 3319.081 contains no reference to a public hearing, Mr. Stewart was not entitled to have his pre-termination hearing held in public. Stewart v. Lockland School District Board of Education, 144 Ohio St.3d 292 (2015).