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Waterbury v. City of East Providence

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

July 12, 2016

KATHLEEN T. WATERBURY, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF EAST PROVIDENCE, et al., Defendants.

          Kathleen T. Waterbury, Plaintiff, represented by Michael T. Eskey, Moses Afonso Ryan, Ltd. & Stephen A. Izzi, Moses & Afonso, Ltd..

          City of East Providence, Defendant, represented by Marc DeSisto, DeSisto Law.

          Richard Kirby, Defendant, represented by Marc DeSisto, DeSisto Law.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          WILLIAM E. SMITH, Chief District Judge.

         Before the Court are Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment filed by Plaintiff and Defendants. (ECF No. 10 ("Plaintiff's Motion") and No. 11 ("Defendants' Motion").) Defendants filed an Opposition to Plaintiff's Motion (ECF No. 16) and Plaintiff filed a Reply (ECF No. 20). For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff's Motion is GRANTED and Defendants' Motion is DENIED.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff alleges that the City of East Providence ("the City") violated her procedural due process rights when it terminated her without cause or any opportunity to be heard. The facts of this case are laid out in detail in the parties' briefs; the Court will only recount those facts relevant to this Order. The narrow question at issue is whether Plaintiff was an at-will employee at the time of her termination, in which case she would have no constitutionally protected property interest in her continued employment. See King v. Town of Hanover, 116 F.3d 965, 969 (1st Cir. 1997) ("An at-will employee, however, has no reasonable expectation of continued employment.").

         Plaintiff was hired as Director of Human Resources by the City Manager on January 24, 2013. (Ex. 1 to Pl.'s Mot., ECF No. 10-3.) Plaintiff's letter of appointment clearly states the Human Resources Director is a "non-union, full-time position with an at-will employment status." (Id. (emphasis added).)[1] However, the letter of appointment further states: "The term and removal of the Human Resources Director shall be in accordance with Chapter 11, Personnel, of the Revised Ordinances of the City of East Providence [("Chapter 11")]." (Id.)

         Chapter 11 defines the "[c]lassified service" as "all offices and positions of trust or employment in the city service, whether paid or unpaid, full-time or part-time, temporary or permanent, existing or hereafter created, except elected officials, those appointed by the city council and those appointed or employed by the school committee." (Ex. 2 to Pl.'s Mot. § 11-1, ECF No. 10-3.) A "[c]lassified employee means any employee occupying a position in the classified service." (Id.) Section 11-62 - Status of employees - states:

All employees holding positions in the classified service shall:
(1) Have permanent status if they have held their present positions or have been employed continuously in a position in the city service for at least six months immediately preceding the effective date of this chapter.
(2) Serve a probationary period of six months before acquiring permanent status if they have held their positions for less than six months immediately preceding the effective date of this chapter.

(Id. § 11-62.) With respect to discharge of classified employees who have completed their six-month probationary period, Chapter 11 provides:

An employee may be discharged by the appointing authority for activities prohibited in the Charter and for insubordination, inefficiency, abuse of sick leave, misconduct, disloyalty or other similar just cause. No discharge of a permanent classified employee shall take effect, unless five days prior to the effective date thereof the appointing authority shall give to such employee a written statement setting forth in detail the reasons therefor and shall file a copy of such statement with the director. Any permanent classified employee ...

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