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Payne v. Fairfax County Sch. Bd.

Supreme Court of Virginia

October 31, 2014

JULIETTE PAYNE
v.
FAIRFAX COUNTY SCHOOL BOARD

FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF FAIRFAX COUNTY. John M. Tran, Judge.

PRESENT: Kinser, C.J., Lemons, Millette, Mims, McClanahan, and Powell, JJ., and Lacy, S.J.

Page 41

[288 Va. 434] OPINION

WILLIAM C. MIMS, JUSTICE

In this appeal, we consider whether Code § 22.1-315(A) requires a school board to hold a hearing prior to suspending a non-teaching employee without pay for fewer than five days.

Page 42

I. BACKGROUND AND MATERIAL PROCEEDINGS BELOW

The Fairfax County School Board employed Juliette Payne as a Food and Nutrition Services Manager at Twain Middle School. In December 2011, Payne's supervisor recommended that she be suspended without pay for three days for allegedly violating Fairfax County Public Schools (" FCPS" ) regulations. In January 2012, the Director of Employee Performance and Development confirmed the supervisor's recommendation and ordered Payne's unpaid suspension.

Payne filed a grievance challenging the suspension pursuant to the procedure established in FCPS regulations. She asserted that the suspension was improper because Code § 22.1-315(A) requires school boards to conduct a hearing before suspending an employee without pay.[1] She sought, among other things, an award of back pay for all suspension days served and the cancellation of all pending suspension days.

Payne's grievance proceeded through five levels of administrative review, culminating in a ruling upholding the suspension on the ground that the grievance procedure was not the correct vehicle through which to assert that it violated state law. She thereafter withdrew her grievance.

In April 2013, Payne filed an amended complaint in the circuit court seeking a declaratory judgment that Code § 22.1-315(A) requires school boards to conduct a hearing prior to suspending an employee without [288 Va. 435] pay. The parties stipulated facts and filed cross-motions for summary judgment. Following a hearing,[2] the court ruled that the section applies only to suspensions based either on threats to the safety or welfare of the school division or the students, or on charges for specified crimes. It concluded that Code § 22.1-315(A) did not require the school board to conduct a hearing before Payne was suspended without pay because her suspension was based on allegations of poor work performance. It also concluded that the section does not require a hearing when a school employee is suspended without pay for five or fewer days. It therefore granted the school board's motion for summary judgment.

We awarded Payne this appeal.

II. ANALYSIS

In her first assignment of error, Payne asserts that the circuit court erred because the plain language of Code ยง 22.1-315(A) requires a school board hearing before any employee is suspended without pay for any reason. In her second assignment of error, she asserts that the court erred by ruling the section does not ...


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