Managing Human Resources Essay Research Paper MultiCultural

Managing Human Resources Essay, Research Paper

Multi-Cultural Environments

Skelly Rights

Background, Impact, Significance on Workers Rights

Skelly Background

In 1975, a case was brought before the Supreme Court of California that redefined the process of personnel discharge in the public sector. This case was John F. Skelly V s State Personnel Board and was brought before the California Supreme Court on appeal from the Sacramento Supreme Court.

This landmark case began in 1972 when John Skelly was terminated from his job as a medical consultant. On July 11, the State Department of Health Care Services presented Skelly a written notice that he was fired effective 5:00 pm. The notice contained three reasons for this release:

q Intemperance

q Inexcusable absence without leave

q Other failure of good behavior during duty hours which caused discredit to the Department

(Skelly v State Personnel Board (1975) 15 Cal.3d 194, 539 P.2d 774). Also included in this notice was that in order to secure a hearing he must, file a written answer to the Board within 20 days, and that the event of his failure to do so, the punitive action would be final (lbid., 15 Cal.3d 199).

John Skelly felt cheated and that the State Personnel Board was trying to intimidate him through their aggressive tactics. In response, he fought back. Skelly challenged the State Personnel Board s termination of him on the grounds that, the taking of punitive action against permanent civil service employees violated the due process clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and article 1, sections 7 and 15 of the California Constitution (lbid., 15 Cal.3d 194).

The compilation of these events and the case of Skelly v State Personnel Board led to significant changes in the public sector. The Court s decision is one that has framed and guided the guarantee of due process for all permanent, public sector employees.

The Case

On September 15, 1975 the California Supreme Court reversed the Sacramento Superior Court s decision of denial of writ of mandate to John Skelly and remanded the case for further proceedings. The court found that the State Personnel Board wrongfully dismissed Skelly for the following reasons:

q The procedure by which the discharge of petitioner was effectuated denied his due process of law and

q The penalty of dismissal was clearly excessive and disproportionate to the misconduct on which it was based

(Ibid., 15 Cal.3d 194). Justice Sullivan outlines the reason for these findings eloquently in her opinion. Skelly believed that his dismissal violates his guarantee of due process of the law. He claims that the provisions of the State Civil Service Act that allows for punitive action to be taken against civil service employees without requiring a prior hearing, is unconstitutional. Sullivan upholds Skelly s reasoning based on a similar case tried in the United States Supreme Court. The court ruled in Arnett v Kennedy(1974), H 16 U.S. 134, that an employee may be, removed or suspended without pay only for such cause as will promote the efficiency of the service . This was not the case in Skelly v State Personnel Board.

The California Supreme Court stated that due process guarantees employees certain procedural rights before a disciplinary action can become effective. The Court ruled that, As a minimum, these pre-removal safeguards must include notice of the proposed action, the reasons therefore, a copy of the charges and materials upon which this action is based, and the right to respond, either orally or in writing, and the authority initially imposing discipline (Skelly v SPB (1975), 15 Cal.3d 213-216). In accordance to their findings, the Court held the provisions of the State Civil Service Act dealing with punitive action against civil service employees, in violation of the due process clause of the 5th and 14th Amendments and the California Constitution. Additionally the Court ruled that the Board s findings about Skelly were not supported with substantial evidence. These decisions set new guidelines and standards for public sector employees and their employers.

The case of Skelly v SPB is one of great importance to all public sector employees because it dealt with discipline, dismissal, and the procedure for due process in those cases. It also introduced the concept of progressive discipline, When an employee is dismissed the employer must show that the discipline reflected the principle of progressive discipline. (Coalition of University Employees). The case laid down six steps that must be followed before a public employee can be disciplined.

1. notice of hearing

2. notice of proposed discipline, in writing

3. the reasons for the proposed discipline, in writing

4. other pertinent information, including copies of the allegedly violated, and any other statements which the employer considered in proposing the discipline

5. the right to representation, and preparation for the hearing

6. the right to respond to the person who proposed the discipline

Over the years, a pre-disciplinary hearing had become known as a Skelly hearing . Skelly hearings are a great asset to public employees because they not only guarantee due process, but it provides an opportunity to see management s evidence against the employee. Also, it is a violation of an employee s rights if management doctor up a case after a Skelly hearing takes place. These rights are taken seriously by arbitrators, employees and employers and it would be wise to educate one selves on these rights to ensure they are not violated, whether the individual concerned is involved with management or labor.


Since the early 1970 s, the rights of the public service employee have been questioned as to whether they meet the minimum standards. Among these in question has been whether or not the standards of the disciplinary procedures meet the minimum due process rights for non-probationary employees (Coppernoll, iv). The United States Supreme Court has taken steps in securing employee s rights. In February of 1975, the court issued a decision on NLRB v Weingarten (420 U.S. 251, (Feb. 1975)). The Weingarten rule resulted, and provides that an employee has the right to be represented by the union at an investigatory meeting when the employee believes that a meeting could lead to discipline. Although the Weingarten case specifically applies to private employees, its provisions have also applied to the public sector.

The Skelly v SPB established a California law as to the rights of the public service employee. The case stated that all public agencies in the State of California are to follow through with the employees right to due process before he can be deprived of his property interests in his employment. The case required all public agencies to modify their personnel rules governing dismissal, demotion, of non-probationary and civil service employees. Skelly rights have been applied to cities and counties, schools, and district hospitals. Before Skelly, most cities had little or no protection for an employee being discharged, demoted or suspended. In response to Skelly, cities throughout the state were required to adopt new procedures to bring the city into conformance with the Skelly rules (Coppernoll, 37). The City of Adelano, California were one of the first cities to develop an ordinance that would adopt the Skelly rules.

When the court first handed down its decision in the Skelly case the general attitude of public administrators toward the new procedures of carrying out the discipline actions was very negative. The argument at the time was that it would be another addition to the mounting problems that have been facing due to changes in public personnel procedures in recent years (Coppernoll, 34). However after administrators had a chance to initiate their new laws of conformance and an opportunity t observe their role in personnel procedures, many began to not take such a defensive attitude toward the procedures. In 1977, County of San Diego personnel representatives said that all the Skelly rules really require is that an agency carry out its disciplinary procedures before the employee is punished instead of the old procedure of handling the action after the discipline (Coppernoll, 34). Personnel analysts with the City of San Diego made claim that their personnel rules governing disciplinary action taken by the city were already in conformance to the Skelly rules and they only had to make a few minor changes (Coppernoll, 34).

In 1977, James Coppernoll, a public administration graduate student preparing a thesis on the impact of Skelly spoke to the city of El Cajon administrative staff as to the impact of Skelly. The administrative staff felt that the new procedures required as a result of Skelly brought the City s management staff closer to employees by taking a closer look at problems initiating the discipline (Coppernoll, 35). Supervisors after Skelly had to be more careful in their studies and less negligent in dealing with problems with employees. The Skelly rule and its creation based upon due process have brought new ideas and concepts in discipline actions for managers.

Progressive Discipline is another action based upon the concept of due process. Progressive discipline has become a useful management tool. When an employer attempts to correct an employee s problem with a process of notification, education, and discipline, that starts less severe, and moves to more severe actions if the problem is not corrected has become standard operating procedures for most organizations. Now if an employee is dismissed the employer is now able to show that the discipline reflected the principle of progressive discipline and was justified based on the facts. Additionally, some agencies in the public sector have begun to develop more procedures for employee evaluations that involve employee participation in development of goals and in the discussion of areas of work performance requiring improvement. The Skelly rule is not only important as to the development of actions as previously described, but remains an important tool that managers need to know in the management of people in their organizatons. Many managers and supervisors still do not understand an employees Skelly rights and therefore continue to violate the rules. This can be grounds for wining a grievance, because arbitrators take Skelly rights very seriously (University Professional and Technical Employees, 1). The Skelly hearing provides an excellent opportunity to check out evidence that management has against the employee. Employees are entitled to access all relevant documents, as in the discovery phase in judicial proceedings, which some mangers don t comprehend. Doctoring of employee information just before a hearing will not be tolerated and could result in favor of that employee even if the pre-doctored charges were significant. The Skelly decision ultimately applies to permanent employees in public agencies. Case decisions such as Perry, et all. V. Sinderman provide case precedent as to what constitutes having a property interest in a job thus upholding Skelly. Although, individual agency procedures throughout the state may address employee interest and permanency with the organization, clear language in law could provide a clearer and fair definition of property interest in the application of Skelly. In a time of long-term temporary and contract employees, there may be a need to go beyond the general definition of permanent employee as introduced by Skelly. Skelly requires managers to act diligently when a problem arises with an employee. It is and will continue to prove important for managers to maintain organized and updated employee discipline files. An important and positive result of Skelly has been on emphasis on assisting an employee in improving performance rather than outright dismissal.

Skelly procedures have helped to shape new ideas as to the relationship between the employee and manager. New management trends encourage helping employees to serve the organization. After all, once an employee has worked for an organization for a number of years and that organization has trained that employee, it is in the best interest of all for the employee to succeed. If necessary though, the Skelly rules will see both the employee and manager through a process of employment dismissal.


If a person is going to be deprived of any rights or freedoms, then there is a legal obligation to follow due process. The Skelly decision cements those rights to due process in the civil sector of our society, and have invoked a specialized type of negotiation between employee and manager. Skelly, which is a formal hearing to allow parties to present their sides to the story, it is a right that allows the employee to try and persuade an employer to take alternative action or eliminate the action altogether. In the interest of fairness, management officials try to be as accommodating as possible to the employee and representatives when it comes to adverse action. After all, it is their belief that if a supervisor has done their job properly by documenting the situation or violations thoroughly, then it won t matter how many allowances they make to the employee or their representative: the outcome will be based on the best record of fact.


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Netcom. 23 November. 1999

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Personnel Board 15 Cal.3d 194. 1975

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Procedures in State and Location Government. San Diego State

University, 1977.

French, Wendall F. Human Resources Management. University of

Washington. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, MA. 1998.

Hayes, Steven & Kearny, Richard, Public Personnel Administration:

Problems and Prospects. Simon & Schuster, New Jersey, 1995.

Pgs. 145-158.

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Due Process: Skelly. Online. Netcom. 13 Oct. 1999.

University Professional & Technical Employment, 1999

University of Professional & Technical Employees, Know Your

Rights Workshop ., November

15, 1999.


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