Procedural Irregularity in Termination Hearing

Procedural Irregularity in Termination Hearing


Fort Worth ISD terminated the contract of teacher Joseph Palazzolo. The case had numerous issues, was hotly contested, and required six days of hearing. The independent hearing examiner worked over 213 hours on the hearing, and after the board took action on his recommendation, requested payment from the district in the amount of $26,693.31. The Texas Administrative Code set the hourly rate for an independent hearing examiner at $125 per hour and the maximum amount per case at $8,000. On appeal, the commissioner determined that the request for payment above the maximum amount of compensation was a procedural irregularity. According to the commissioner’s rules, a procedural irregularity can only result in a reversal of a board’s decision if the irregularity or error was likely to have led to an erroneous decision. The commissioner found no actual bias on the part of the independent hearing examiner, but nonetheless determined that the payment exceeding $8,000 was likely to lead to an erroneous decision. Therefore, the commissioner reversed the decision of the board.

Fort Worth ISD appealed the commissioner’s decision to Tarrant County District Court. The district court granted the commissioner’s and Palazzolo’s pleas to the jurisdiction, so the merits of the appeal were never considered. The district filed an appeal with the Second Court of Appeals to preserve its right to appeal the court's decision, but ultimately withdrew the appeal and paid Palazzolo one year's salary as allowed by the commissioner’s decision. Fort Worth Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Palazzolo, No. 348-254232-11 (Tarrant County District Court). LAF’s Attorney: Clay T. Grover, Rogers, Morris & Grover, L.L.P., Houston.