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Harrison v. Board of Trstees of the University of the District of Columbia

August 17, 2000

RICHARD A. HARRISON AND LINDA Y. MCMILLAN, APPELLANTS
V.
BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE UNIVERSITY OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, APPELLEE



Before Terry, Schwelb, and Ruiz, Associate Judges.

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

Appeals from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (Hon. A. Franklin Burgess, Jr., First Trial Judge) (Hon. Linda D. Turner, Second Trial Judge)

Argued May 4, 1999

Appellants Harrison and McMillan are former educational service employees of the University of the District of Columbia ("the University" or "UDC"). Pursuant to a multi-phase reduction in force ("RIF"), Harrison's position was eliminated in November 1992 and McMillan's in September 1995. Both appealed their terminations to the president of UDC, but those appeals were rejected. In January 1993 Harrison and eight other former UDC employees sought review of UDC's action in the Superior Court. Their petitions were consolidated with one another, and three more were later consolidated with the first nine. The court denied all twelve petitions in a thorough and detailed memorandum opinion. Harmon v. Board of Trustees of the University of the District of Columbia, No. 93-MPA-03 (D.C. Super. Ct. August 4, 1994) (Burgess, J.). Harrison and several other petitioners appealed to this court. Some of those appeals were dismissed, and in two of the others the trial court's rulings have been affirmed. *fn1 McMillan also petitioned the Superior Court for review of her discharge, but her petition was likewise denied. Her appeal from that ruling was consolidated with that of Mr. Harrison.

Both appellants challenge the validity of the University's RIF rules on several grounds. They claim that the rules violated the District of Columbia's RIF policies and were designed to limit employees' rights. They each challenge their individual terminations on separate additional grounds. We conclude that appellants' claims are largely based on misinterpretations and misunderstandings about the relevant statutes and rules, and hold that the RIF rules are neither unreasonable nor illegal. Because we also find no merit in either appellant's individual claims, we affirm both judgments.

I.

The relevant facts in each of these consolidated cases are essentially undisputed.

A. Harrison

On June 26, 1992, the University's updated RIF Rules went into effect. 18 DCMR §§ 1800 et seq. (1992); see Hoage, supra note 1, 714 A.2d at 778. In August of that year, UDC implemented its Administrative Management Plan, Phase I, which was designed to alleviate the University's financial problems by consolidating or eliminating several of its administrative units by means of a RIF. Among those units affected was the Office of Veterans Affairs, where Richard Harrison was employed as the program manager and assistant director of veterans affairs. On October 21, 1992, Harrison received a notice stating that, effective November 25, his position was being abolished and his employment terminated pursuant to the RIF. Harrison had worked at UDC and one of its predecessor institutions for twenty-four years.

Harrison filed a timely request for review with UDC President Tilden LeMelle on November 4, 1992. He contended that the implementation of the new RIF rules was "subjective and illegal" and that the elimination of the Office of Veterans Affairs and his position violated 34 C.F.R. § 629.5, the federal regulation governing Veterans Education Outreach Program grants. *fn2 In a letter dated December 21, President LeMelle rejected Harrison's appeal, stating that, under the federal regulation, UDC only had to "maintain an office of veterans affairs that fulfills the functions required to provide the services for which the grant is made," not a "separate Office of Veterans Affairs" (emphasis in original). He also explained to Harrison that "[t]he competitive areas set forth in the new RIF rules are essentially the competitive areas that were set forth in the prior rules," and that the RIF procedures do not apply to temporary or contract employees because "[t]emporary employees have no retention rights and may be released at any time without effecting a reduction in force," and because the retention rights of contract employees are determined by their individual contracts, not by any RIF rules. *fn3

Harrison filed a petition in the Superior Court for review of the president's decision. See Super. Ct. Agency Rev. R. 1; Davis v. University of the District of Columbia, 603 A.2d 849, 853 (D.C. 1992) (educational service employee is not entitled to a hearing before the Office of Employee Appeals but may "invoke the general equitable jurisdiction of the Superior Court so that he would be afforded a right to a hearing"). The court in due course affirmed the president's decision, concluding that it was supported by substantial evidence. Harrison then appealed to this court.

B. McMillan

Linda McMillan was hired by the University on December 18, 1972, and eventually became the Education Program Administrator in the University College. On August 25, 1995, she received a notice informing her that her position was being terminated in accordance with the University's Administrative Management Plan, Phase III, and that she would be released on September 30. On September 8 McMillan filed a request for review with President LeMelle asserting, inter alia, that the termination of her position was unreasonable and that the rules governing the RIF were improper. *fn4 On October 23 President LeMelle affirmed McMillan's termination in a five-page, ...


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