The State Worker

Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

February 2, 2012
Column Extra: Skelly case set precedent for state worker discipline

Thumbnail image for 100602 yolo county gavel.jpgWith just 400 to 450 words for our weekly State Worker column, some of what we learn each week never sees print. Column Extras give you the notes, the quotes and the observations that inform what's published.

Our column in today's Bee looks at the state's employee disciplinary process. An aspect of the topic that we had to leave out was the legal precedent for the system we outlined, specifically Skelly v. State Personnel Board.

John Skelly was a 64-year-old doctor working for the Department of Healthcare Services when he was fired in 1972 for "intemperance, inexcusable absences and other failures." In sum, the doctor had been taking extended lunch breaks and twice disappeared without explanation during the work day.

Skelly's supervisors warned him informally and in writing. When things didn't change, he received a one-day suspension. The department fired him after a district administrator found Skelly at a bar "during work hours, with his hair disheveled, his arm around a patron and a drink in front of him."

Skelly appealed to the State Personnel Board. He disputed the allegations and presented witnesses who testified he was a good employee.

The board upheld with the termination. Skelly lost again in civil court. Eventually the case went to the California Supreme Court, where the doctor argued he had been denied his due process rights.

The court agreed. Civil service employment is a property interest that the government can't remove or reduce without due process. At the time, the state's Civil Service Act allowed employers to discipline workers by notifying them of it with no warning.

Not good enough, the court said. Skelly should have received "procedural protections" before he lost his job.

Today, the so-called "Skelly hearing" that state and local civil service employees can request when they receive a written disciplinary action notice is the result of the high court's 1975 decision in the doctor's favor.
Skelly v SPB


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About The State Worker

Jon Ortiz The Author

Jon Ortiz launched The State Worker blog and a companion column in 2008 to cover state government from the perspective of California government employees. Every day he filters the news through a single question: "What does this mean for state workers?" Join Ortiz for updates and debate on state pay, benefits, pensions, contracts and jobs. Contact him at (916) 321-1043 and at


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