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HOAGE v. BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF UNIV. OF DC

July 2, 1998

DONALD L. HOAGE, APPELLANT,
V.
BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE UNIVERSITY OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, APPELLEE.



APPEAL FROM THE SUPERIOR COURT, A. FRANKLIN BURGESS, JR., J. [714 A2d Page 777]

Before Wagner, Chief Judge, and Terry and Farrell, Associate Judges. [714 A2d Page 778]

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Terry, Associate Judge:

Appellant Hoage, an employee of the University of the District of Columbia ("UDC"), was separated from his employment in October 1992 because of a reduction in force ("RIF"). His appeal of the RIF to the president of UDC was rejected in December 1992. Mr. Hoage and eight other former UDC employees filed petitions for review of agency action in the Superior Court in January 1993; they were all consolidated with one another, and three similar petitions were later consolidated with the first nine. After reviewing the agency records, the court denied all twelve petitions. Several of the petitioners appealed to this court from that ruling, but some of their appeals were dismissed and others were stayed, so that Mr. Hoage's case is the only one before us today. On appeal Hoage contends (1) that the trial court erred in holding that he was an Educational Service employee, (2) that the record before the agency and the trial court was incomplete because one crucial document was omitted from it, (3) that the RIF was a pretext for what was actually a retaliatory firing, and (4) that he should have received a hearing, either before the president of the university or before the court. We hold that the trial court did not err in ruling that Hoage was a member of the Educational Service because there was substantial evidence in the record to that effect, that the omitted document would have made no difference in the decision of either the president of UDC or the trial court, that Hoage failed to show that the RIF was pretextual, and that he was not entitled to a hearing. Accordingly, we affirm.

I

Mr. Hoage had been employed in UDC's procurement department since February 16, 1982, and had twice been promoted, first in 1985 and again in 1989. At the time of his discharge, he was a Deputy Procurement Officer. In February 1992 he applied for an "early out" retirement plan which the trustees of the university had recently approved, *fn1 but his application was denied because it was submitted too late. He filed a grievance on July 28, 1992, challenging the denial. Ten days later, on August 7, UDC issued to Hoage a "Personnel Action Form One," effective retroactively to October 1, 1991, which indicated that Hoage was in the Career Service, not the Educational Service. *fn1 This was the first personnel form he had ever received with such a designation. Hoage claims that this designation was made as a means of denying his request for early retirement, since Career Service employees had to have twenty years of UDC employment, rather than ten, in order to be eligible for the "early out" program. *fn1

On June 26, 1992, the university's new RIF Rules became effective. In August 1992 the university issued its Administrative Management Plan, Phase I, which called for the consolidation or elimination of several of UDC's administrative units. Under this plan, the Office of Procurement, where Mr. Hoage worked, was among those offices [714 A2d Page 779]

whose functions were to be realigned. Following the recommendations in the plan, the president of UDC, Tilden J. LeMelle, approved a proposed RIF that eliminated the position of Deputy Procurement Officer.

On October 21, 1992, Hoage received a notice stating that he would be released from his employment on November 25 as a result of the RIF. He filed a timely request for review of the RIF action with President LeMelle, alleging that the RIF of his position was in retaliation for grievances that he had filed earlier against UDC, that it was designed to single him out, and that the RIF procedures themselves were illegal. On November 20 Hoage's attorney sent the president a copy of the August 7 Personnel Action Form One. If Hoage had been in fact a member of the Career Service, as this form showed, he would be exempt from the applicable RIF rules.

Hoage was released from his position on November 25, 1992. A few days later he received another personnel "Form One," dated December 2, confirming his discharge and showing an effective date of November 25. This form also indicated — with a computer-printed number "1" in box 37 (see note 2, supra) — that Hoage was in the Career Service. *fn2

On December 17, 1992, in a letter addressed to Mr. Hoage, the president rejected Hoage's appeal, ruling that the elimination of his position was proper. The letter stated that Mr. Hoage had presented "no facts or evidence to support [his] assertion that the decision to conduct a reduction in force was improper or in violation of University Rules." The president also concluded that the notation of a "1" for Career Service in box 37 of the August 7 Form One was simply a typographical error. He reasoned that if the purpose of issuing the form on August 7 had been to change the designation of the position, such a change "would have been specifically stated on the form and would have several other effects that did not occur," such as a change in Hoage's pay schedule and rate of pay. The president concluded that Hoage's position was in the Educational Service because he was an "educational employee" as defined in the relevant section of the District of Columbia Comprehensive Merit Personnel Act (CMPA), D.C.Code § 1-603.1(6) (1992). Finally, the president ruled that the retaliation claim, the decision about which positions should be eliminated, and the assertion that the RIF rules were invalid were all beyond the scope of the appeal.

The trial court denied Mr. Hoage's petition for review without a hearing. In its order the court held that Hoage's supervisory responsibilities did not qualify him for the Career Service and that the law would not have permitted UDC to place him in the Career Service. There was substantial evidence in the record, the court said, to support UDC's contention that the "1" on Hoage's personnel form was merely a typographical error. The court accepted the president's finding that if UDC had intended to switch Hoage into the Career Service despite the law's requirements, there would have been a notation to that effect in the "Remarks" section on the form. Additionally, the court found that Hoage had presented no proof of prior grievances between himself and UDC.

Mr. Hoage filed a series of post-hearing motions for relief under various Superior Court Civil Rules, including Rules 59 and 60. After all of those motions were denied, Mr. Hoage noted this appeal. *fn3 [714 A2d Page 780]

II

A. Hoage's Employment ...


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