481 U. S. 252
April 22, 1987
A federal law prevented transportation employers from firing employees because they had discovered and pointed out safety violations. If an employee alleged unlawful termination, the Secretary of Labor would provide the company notice, and investigate. The Secretary could then order reinstatement, and this order could be challenged in an evidentiary hearing after the fact. Roadway Express claimed that disallowing an evidentiary hearing before the order of reinstatement violated the company’s due process rights.
Marshall wrote for the majority. The Court ruled 7-2 that an evidentiary hearing was not required before a reinstatement order. But the Court also ruled 6-3 that the current practice of the Secretary of Labor did violate the due process clause. A mootness argument was brushed aside, since the case was ‘capable of repetition, yet evading review.’ Moving on to the due process claims, Marshall said that Roadway needed to be informed of the substance of the employee’s claim and the evidence in support of that claim. Because Roadway was denied that information, the company’s due process rights were violated. Nonetheless, the harm that employees would face due to delayed reinstatement outweighed the need for evidentiary hearings to be conducted beforehand.
White, joined by Rehnquist and Scalia, argued that the decisions of the Secretary of Labor should be entitled to more deference, and disagreed with the majority finding a due process violation. Brennan argued that the delay in the post-reinstatement evidentiary hearing was egregious, and that such a hearing ought to have been held prior to reinstatement. Stevens likewise contended that an evidentiary hearing was necessary before reinstatement, citing the invaluable truth-finding function of cross-examination.
I totally agree with Brennan and Stevens. The government should not mess with employment decisions absent some meaningful legal process. This is another one of those occasional cases where the liberals and conservatives are on the exact opposites sides of where I would have expected.