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Sium v. Office of State Superintendent of Education

Court of Appeals of The District of Columbia

October 10, 2019

Yordanos SIUM, Appellant,
v.
OFFICE OF the STATE SUPERINTENDENT OF EDUCATION, Appellee.

         Argued November 16, 2018

Page 229

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 230

          Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CAP-4119-16), (Hon. Jeanette J. Clark, Associate Judge), (Hon. Robert R. Rigsby, Associate Judge)[1]

         David A. Branch for appellant.

         Lucy E. Pittman, Assistant Attorney General, with whom Karl A. Racine, Attorney General for the District of Columbia, Loren L. Alikhan, Solicitor General, and Stacy L. Anderson, Acting Deputy Solicitor General, were on the brief, for appellee.

         Before Glickman and Easterly, Associate Judges, and Steadman, Senior Judge.

         OPINION

         Easterly, Associate Judge:

Page 231

          Appellant Yordanos Sium challenges her termination for cause by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education ("OSSE"). We first conclude that Ms. Sium’s failure to file an appeal to the Office of Employee Appeals ("OEA") within thirty days, as specified in D.C. Code § 1-606.03(a) (2016 Repl.), did not deprive OEA of jurisdiction to hear her case. We further conclude that, because the OEA Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") decided not to conduct an evidentiary hearing even though the parties’ briefing disputed material facts, the OEA Board abused its discretion in denying Ms. Sium’s petition for review. We therefore vacate and remand.

          I.

         Ms. Sium worked as a school bus driver for OSSE. In January 2011, her bus made contact with an illegally parked vehicle. She did not exit her bus and instead left the scene. The incident, which was recorded on videotape, was reported to OSSE, and an investigator interviewed Ms. Sium the following day. According to the investigator’s report, Ms. Sium initially told the investigator that she had not made contact with the illegally parked vehicle, but after the investigator informed her that she had been seen making contact, she "changed her story" and apologized. OSSE cleared Ms. Sium to return to work about a week after the collision. Almost three months after the incident, OSSE sent Ms. Sium a notice of proposed termination.[2] It then informed Ms. Sium that she was terminated for cause in mid-April 2011.[3] By statute, Ms. Sium had thirty days to appeal her termination to OEA, see D.C. Code § 1-606.03(a), although OSSE did not specify this in its termination letter. Ms. Sium filed her pro se appeal in August 2013, using what appears to be an OEA form. No question on the form asked if Ms. Sium wanted an evidentiary hearing.

          OSSE moved to dismiss Ms. Sium’s OEA appeal, asserting her failure to file within the requisite thirty-day timeframe deprived OEA of jurisdiction. The OEA ALJ did not explicitly rule on this motion and instead ordered briefing on the merits. In its brief, OSSE explained that the Division of Transportation had justifiably terminated Ms. Sium after "conclud[ing] that Ms. Sium’s behavior, including hitting a parked car, fleeing the scene, and lying to the investigator, presented a threat to the efficiency and discipline of the school system." The agency also asserted that this was Ms. Sium’s second "preventable" collision within twelve months, although it provided no detail about the earlier incident and engaged in no analysis of why either collision was, in its view, "preventable." In her pro se brief in response, Ms. Sium argued inter alia that OSSE had "cleared" her after the January 2011 collision and permitted her to return to work. She further asserted that "[c]ritical facts" alleged by OSSE had not been "determined conclusively" in its investigation; in particular, she challenged ...


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