Due Process Not Needed Prior To Reorganization Which Resulted In Lieutenant’s Reduction To Sergeant

William Carlberg was a lieutenant with the New Hampshire Bureau of Highway Patrol and Enforcement. In 2007, Carlberg was deployed to active duty by the United States National Guard. While he was deployed, the Department reorganized, moving the Highway Patrol from the Division of Motor Vehicles into the Division of State Police.

A collective bargaining agreement with terms relating to departmental reorganization was in effect at the time. The reorganization sought to merge the two police forces in order to improve the administration and efficiency of the Department of Safety.

As a result of the reorganization, Carlberg’s new title became that of State Police Regulatory Sergeant, with compensation that was roughly the same he had enjoyed as a lieutenant. Carlberg was treated the same as two other existing Highway Patrol lieutenants, who were also reclassified as sergeants, and employees in positions other than Highway Patrol lieutenants who were reclassified to positions with new titles.

When Carlberg returned from his deployment, he filed a lawsuit against the State claiming, among other things, that his reduction in rank was a demotion that needed to be preceded by a due process hearing. A federal court disagreed with Carlberg.

The Court found that “New Hampshire law draws a distinction between disciplinary personnel actions for cause and personnel actions taken in the course of departmental reorganization. While employees have a right to a hearing when their employer proposes to demote them for cause, they have no vested right to protection from a departmental reorganization conducted in accordance with the requirements of state law. Accordingly, once the governor approved of the reorganization of the Department of Safety and reclassification of employees, Carlberg possessed no entitlement to continued employment in the rank of lieutenant. Because Carlberg has not demonstrated that he had a legitimate claim of entitlement to continued employment at the rank of lieutenant, his claim that he was deprived a protected property interest without due process of law fails as a matter of law.”

Carlberg v. New Hampshire Department of Safety, 2009 WL 1322595 (D. N.H. 2009).

This article appears in the July 2009 issue