John Doe v. Mary Ronan, Cincinnati Public Schools, and Ohio Department of Education
This case falls into the legal category of: Due Process
Case Dates:Monday, 8 March, 2010 - ongoing
State law requires all public school employees to undergo a criminal background check. Prior to 2007, background checks were only required for school employees who had direct care or custody of schoolchildren. In 2007, the General Assembly amended the law to require background checks for all current school employees and applicants, regardless of whether or not they have direct care of schoolchildren. One of two things happen to employees whose background checks reveal a criminal record. Most are given an opportunity to prove they are rehabilitated and should still be eligible for employment. However, the new law included a list of past offenses, including non-violent drug offenses, where the employee would not be allowed to prove rehabilitation and would just be summarily terminated.
John Doe had been a good employee of the Cincinnati Public Schools for twelve years, as a Safe and Drug Free School Specialist and was later promoted to be a Due Process Hearing Specialist. He did not have direct supervision of students, so he was not required to undergo a background check until the 2007 law was adopted. A background check revealed that John Doe had a single drug conviction in 1976. The result was that Doe’s employment was automatically terminated, without any chance to prove rehabilitation, despite the fact that he had been a model employee for over a decade.
The Retroactivity Clause of the Ohio Constitution prohibits retroactive application of a law that infringes on substantive rights. The law at issue here infringed on Doe’s substantive rights by divesting him of his employment without due process. Several other states have found similar automatic employment bans to infringe on due process. Thus, the law that divested Doe of his employment without due process violated his rights under the Retroactivity Clause.
In April 2009, Doe filed suit in the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas. CPS and Ronan removed the case to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio. In November 2009, the District Court granted Doe’s request and issued an order certifying state law questions to the Ohio Supreme Court and staying proceedings pending resolution of the state questions. On January 17, 2010, the Ohio Supreme Court agreed to hear both certified questions. The two questions presented to the Ohio Supreme Court are whether the 2007 law that led to Doe’s automatic termination violated his rights under the Retroactivity Clause and the Contract Clause of the Ohio Constitution. On March 8, we filed an amicus brief in support of Doe arguing that his termination without due process violated his rights under the Retroactivity Clause. The Ohio Employment Lawyers Association, Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, and Towards Employment filed an amicus in support of Doe under the Contract Clause. The defendants sought an extension on their brief deadline. The Ohio Department of Education filed their brief April 22, and the Cincinnati Schools and Ronan filed their brief April 26, 2010. Doe’s reply brief was filed 20 days later. The Ohio Supreme Court heard oral argument on June 8, 2010. On October 26, 2010, the Ohio Supreme Court held that the law under which Doe was fired did not violate the Contract Clause or Retroactivity Clause of the Ohio Constitution. The case now returns to federal court for the remaining issues to be heard and decided.