Tennessee Supreme Court Holds Terminated Preferred Service State Employees Bear Burden Of Proof

In Appeal Of Dismissal

Thursday, September 14, 2017

In 2012, the Tennessee General Assembly adopted the Tennessee Excellence, Accountability, and Management Act of 2012, which comprehensively addressed the hiring and termination of state employees. The TEAM Act replaced the prior Civil Service Act. The TEAM Act established two categories of state employees, executive service employees and preferred service employees. The Tennessee Supreme Court now has determined that the TEAM Act does not create a protected property interest for preferred service employees for continued employment in their positions and that preferred service employees challenging a dismissal bear the burden of proof during the appeals process. 

The case arose when the defendant, Mr. Pressley, a preferred service employee of the Tennessee Department of Correction, received notification from the prison warden that his employment had been terminated.  The letter of notification alleged that Mr. Pressley had allowed inmates to steal a large quantity of food from the prison kitchen while he was supervising the cleaning of the kitchen, in violation of applicable rules and procedures.  Mr. Pressley sought review of his dismissal under the provisions of the TEAM Act. Mr. Pressley’s termination was upheld in the first two stages of review, but in the third stage before the Board of Review, an administrative law judge, determined that the Department, not the employee, bore the burden of proof. In reliance upon this ruling by the ALJ, the Board concluded that the Department failed to meet its burden on all but one charge. Both parties challenged the Board’s decision in Chancery Court. The Chancery Court concluded that the Board erred in placing the burden of proof on the Department. The Court of Appeals then reversed the Chancery Court, determining that preferred service employees have a protected property interest in continued employment. As a result, the Court of Appeals concluded that the Department does bear the burden of proof. 

The Supreme Court granted the Department’s appeal to determine which party bears the burden of proof in challenges to a dismissal or a suspension under the TEAM Act. As a part of the analysis of that issue, the Court had to determine whether preferred service employees maintain a protected property interest in their continued employment.  

In a unanimous opinion authored by Chief Justice Jeff Bivins, the Court first determined that preferred service employees are not entitled to a protected property interest in their State employment.  In reaching this conclusion, the Court specifically noted that the prior Civil Service Act contained a provision that expressly granted a civil service employee a property right in continued state employment.  The TEAM Act, on the other hand, contains no such provision. The Court also held that, based upon the provisions of the TEAM Act, Mr. Pressley, rather than the Department, bore the burden of proof before the Board. As a result, the Court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals and remanded the case to the Board to apply the appropriate burden of proof. 

To read the Supreme Court’s opinion in Tennessee Department of Correction v. David Pressley, authored by Chief Justice Jeff Bivins, go to the opinions section of TNCourts.gov.


Equal Opportunity Breakfast Is Oct. 30

The Urban League of Greater Chattanooga has announced the winners of the 2018 Community IMPACT Award and 2018 Inclusion Award. The awards will be presented to the winners at the 36th Annual Equal Opportunity Breakfast presented by BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee and Volkswagen Group of America on Tuesday, Oct. 30, at the Chattanooga Convention Center. The 2018 Community Impact ... (click for more)

ALDI Opens First Signal Mountain Store

ALDI will open its first grocery store in Signal Mountain as part of a $3.4 billion investment to expand to 2,500 stores nationwide by the end of 2022. To celebrate the store opening, ALDI will host a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Thursday at 8:45 a.m., followed by a Golden Ticket giveaway offering gift cards to the first 100 customers. Shoppers can also sample ALDI-exclusive brand ... (click for more)

Chattanooga Man At Scene Of Carjackings Gets 6-Year Federal Prison Sentence

A Chattanooga man who was at the scene of two carjackings has been sentenced to serve six years in federal prison. Nikolas Milton, 25, appeared before Judge Curtis Collier. A probation report recommended a four-level sentence enhancement, but prosecutor Chris Poole acknowledged there was no proof that Milton was the person who carried out the first carjacking. He said two ... (click for more)

Police Arrest Man On Multiple Car Break-Ins At Signal View Apartments

Police said they arrested a man on multiple car break-ins at the Signal View Apartments on Mountain Creek Road. Maurice Flanigan is charged with three counts of burglary and three counts of theft of property. Police said he was caught by the apartment complex's courtesy office who also works for the Red Bank Police Department. He was also taken into custody on several warrants ... (click for more)

Drink Up, Chattanooga

I attended the meeting to discuss the placement of the sewage treatment plant at the Cambridge Center in Ooltewah today. My problem with the meeting (aka) dog and pony show, is that the meeting started out with the agenda of the Ooltewah Community Council.  After living in this area for 45+ years I have never heard of this group.  I would like for someone to answer ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Vols: ‘Don’t Let Up’

The idea was hatched a couple of years ago. Some Tennessee football fanatic had gotten wind that an Oklahoma player had documented his baptism to havoc inside Neyland Stadium. Offensive lineman Ty Darlington was part of that 2015 double-overtime slugfest against the Vols and, afterwards, remembered OU’s 34-27 win – after being down by 17 points earlier – was an absolute “dissertation” ... (click for more)