Employment Status of Probationary Police Trainees

On February 25, 2014, the Oklahoma Supreme Court settled the issue of whether a probationary police trainee who is a member of the Oklahoma Police Pension and Retirement System (OPPRS) is (1) an at-will employee, and (2) entitled to a post-termination hearing.  City of Jenks v. Timothy Stone, 2014 OK 11.

The case involved the termination of a probationary police trainee employed by the City of Jenks. The City of Jenks and the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 146 had an agreement outlining the grievance and arbitration rights of full-time, permanent police officers.  Stone requested a review board hearing under 11 O.S. § 50-123 of the OPPRS and the City denied that request claiming Stone was an at-will employee and not entitled to a review board hearing.  Title  11 O.S. § 50-123 provides, in part:

A. The governing body of every participating municipality, except municipalities which have provided for a civil service board of review or merit board, or have negotiated a contract covering discharge with their members to hear such appeals, shall establish a board of review to hear appeals concerning the discharge of members....

B. No member may be discharged except for cause. Any member who is discharged may appeal to the board of review herein provided.... (emphasis added).

Among other things, the Court looked at the 1995 OPPRS enactment defining the term “member” to determine whether the Legislature intended to create an exception to the at-will employment doctrine or simply allow police trainees the opportunity to participate in the OPPRS. The Court stated the 1995 enactment was simply intended to allow probationary trainees to participate in the retirement and pension system, and the term “member,” as it is defined in § 50-123, does not include a probationary police trainee.  

In conclusion, the Court ruled that probationary police trainees are at-will employees and the collective bargaining agreement outlining grievance and arbitration rights for full-time employees met the exception in 11 O.S. § 50-123. 

“Employment Status of Probationary Police Trainees” was written by Suzanne D. Paulson, OMAG Associate Counsel. You may contact the author at spaulson@omag.org. The information in this Risk Alert is intended solely for general informational purposes and should not be construed as or used as a substitute for legal advice or legal opinions with respect to specific situations, since such advice requires an evaluation of precise factual circumstances by an attorney. 

March 2014