The opinion of the court was delivered by: Young, District Judge.[fn1] [fn1] Of the District of Massachusetts, sitting by designation.
On June 8, 1999, the defendant Board of Education ("Board") of
the Long Beach City School District ("District") voted to
terminate plaintiff Charles Chaffer ("Chaffer"), a groundskeeper
in the District since 1989. The Board's decision to terminate
Chaffer was made shortly after an administrative hearing,
conducted pursuant to New York Civil Service Law Section 75, at
which an independent hearing officer reviewed the District's
charges of incompetency and misconduct against Chaffer, heard
from both sides, and ultimately recommended dismissal. Chaffer
did not challenge this determination in state court through a
proceeding pursuant to Article 78 of the New York Civil Practice
Law. Instead, he brought a Section 1983 action challenging his
termination in this Court, alleging that the Board, acting under
color of state law, denied him his constitutional rights to due
process and equal protection of the laws, and violated the
contracts clause of the United States Constitution.
Both sides have moved for summary judgment under Federal Rule
of Civil Procedure 56. At a hearing on May 9, 2002, the parties
agreed that the Court should decide the case on the record
submitted on the summary judgment motions, without a formal
trial. Having reviewed the record and considered the issues
presented, the Court now issues its findings of facts and
conclusions of law, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
The facts underlying this case are essentially undisputed by
the parties. Chaffer was hired by the District as a
grounds-keeper on or about January 25, 1989. Am. Compl. ¶ 11.
This position is classified as non-competitive under the Civil
Service Law of the State of New York. Id. at ¶ 12.
Accordingly, once Chaffer had remained at the job for more than
five years, he was entitled to the protections provided by
Section 75 of the Civil Service Law, and could not be terminated
"except for incompetency or misconduct shown after a hearing
upon stated charges." N.Y. Civil Service Law § 75(1), Am. Compl.
During the eighteen month period between June 1, 1997 and
November 30, 1998, Chaffer missed 87.5 days of work. Plaintiffs
Memorandum of Law ("Pl.'s Mem."), 1 [Docket No. 22]; Defendant's
Memorandum of Law ("Def.Mem."), 1 [Docket No. 19]. With the
exception of one half day, all of these absences were paid by
the District as sick leave or other authorized leave under the
collective bargaining agreement covering Chaffer's employment.
Pl.'s Mem. at 1; Plaintiffs Motion for Summary Judgment and
Affirmation in Support ("Pl.'s Mot.") [Docket No. 15 & 16], Ex.
3 — Defendant's Post-Hearing Memorandum, at 3. Throughout this
time, Chaffer's supervisors communicated with him orally and in
writing about his poor attendance and warned him that he needed
to improve. Id. at 4.
On December 15, 1998, the District's Superintendent, Dr.
Elliott Landon, served charges of incompetency and misconduct
(relating solely to Chaffer's record of absences) against
Chaffer, pursuant to Section 75. Defendant's Motion for Summary
Judgment and Counsel's Declaration in Support, ("Def.'s Mot."),
[Docket No. 17 & 18], Ex. A — Statement of Charges at 1-2. The
statement of charges informed Chaffer that a hearing had been
scheduled for January 13, 1999 before Hearing Officer Terence
Smolev, and that Chaffer had eight days to respond to the
writing. Id. at 2. On January 13, 1999, the District appeared
through its counsel. Id., Ex. C — Report of Hearing Officer,
at 2. Chaffer and his counsel also appeared, but left the
hearing shortly thereafter, despite being warned by the Hearing
Officer that the proceeding would continue. Id. On that date,
the District called Assistant Superintendent Randie Berger as a
witness to testify regarding Chaffer's absences and the
District's records of those absences. Id. Berger testified
that Chaffer's absences had imposed a burden on the District
because he was the only employee with a special license to use
heavy equipment, and that Chaffer had the worst attendance
record of the District's 700 employees. Pl.'s Mot., Ex. 4 —
Defendant's Post-Hearing Memorandum at 3-4.
On March 31, 1999, the hearing was reconvened at the request
of Chaffer's counsel. Def.'s Mot., Ex. C at 2. At that hearing,
Chaffer's counsel sought additional time to prepare his defense.
Id. His request was granted, and the hearing was adjourned
until April 19, 1999. Id. Chaffer was also given the
opportunity to file an answer to the District's charges against
him, id.; he did so on April 6, 1999. See Pl.'s Mot., Ex. 1
— Chaffer's Answer to Charges. In his answer, Chaffer argued
that he could not be terminated for his absences, since all of
them had been taken as paid absences as entitlements under the
collective bargaining agreement governing his employment. Id.
The third and final day of the hearing was on April 19, 1999,
at which time Chaffer's counsel cross-examined Berger, and then
rested. Def.'s Mot., Ex. C, at 2. Both sides subsequently
submitted post-hearing memoranda to the Hearing Officer in
mid-May. See Pl.'s Mot. Ex. 3 & 4.
On May 27, 1999, the Hearing Officer issued his report. Def.'s
Mot., Ex. C. In this report, he stated that Chaffer had taken
excessive absences that he knew or should have known would have
an adverse effect on the District. Id. at 3. He further found
that, notwithstanding the fact that Chaffer's absences had been
paid, the number of his absences had been excessive and that
"any penalty short of dismissal . . . would not be sufficient in
this matter"; he then recommended that Chaffer be dismissed from
employment with the District Id. at 3-4. The Board
subsequently voted to dismiss Chaffer on June 8, 1999, without
giving Chaffer an opportunity to respond to the Hearing
Officer's recommendation. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 21-22. Chaffer's counsel
informed him of the termination several days later; Chaffer
himself was never given written notice by the District.
Affidavit of William Friedman ("Friedman Affidavit") [Docket No.
23], ¶ 8.
Chaffer's cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleges that
the Board, acting under color of state law, deprived him of his
constitutionally protected rights to due process and equal
protection, and violated the contracts clause of the United