Probationary Police Officer Has No Property Interest In The Job

Dennis Walsh began work as a police officer with the Suffolk County, New York Police Department on August 29, 2005. Walsh signed an “acceptance of appointment” at the time of his hire, a document which stated that “this appointment shall be for a probationary term of 18 months.”

The County had not completed its background investigation of Walsh at the time he was hired. It subsequently determined that Walsh was the subject of a criminal investigation by a police agency in California in which he was accused of extortion and harassment of a woman, an investigation that stemmed from Walsh’s threatening use of a sexual videotape. Walsh did not disclose the investigation on his application for employment.

The Department began an investigation of Walsh into the failure to disclose. During the investigation, Walsh resigned. Walsh subsequently filed a federal court lawsuit alleging he was compelled to resign, and that he had a property interest in his job of which he was deprived without due process.

A federal court dismissed Walsh’s lawsuit. The Court found that for Walsh to have a property right to the job that compelled due process, he had to have a right that “secured certain benefits and that supported claims of entitlement to those benefits. Property interests arise in the employment context only where the employer is barred, whether by statute or contract, from terminating (or not renewing) the employment relationship without cause. Thus, in order to establish a federal procedural due process claim, the plaintiff must first establish that he possesses a property right in his continued employment.”

The Court found that it was well settled in New York that probationary employees had no property rights in their positions and could be “lawfully discharged without a hearing and without any specified reason. Many courts have found police officers in situations similar to Walsh to be probationary employees not subject to the same due process protection as permanent employees. Walsh’s claim for violation of due process cannot survive.”

Walsh v. Suffolk County Police Department, 2008 WL 1991118 (E.D.N.Y. 2008).

This article appears in the July 2008 issue