X

Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
The full case caption appears at the end of this opinion. Complainant, Patricia W. Hoffler, seeks review of the State Personnel Board’s order affirming the termination of her employment by the Department of Corrections (DOC). We affirm. Complainant’s termination resulted from her conduct during an investigation involving charges of sexual harassment against one of her supervisors. Specifically, during the investigation by the Inspector General’s Office, complainant initially told investigators on two occasions in effect that she had been sexually harassed by the supervisor. However, complainant later recanted her initial statements and maintained, both through the balance of the investigation and at the hearing, that her supervisor did not sexually harass her. Following the hearing, the supervisor was terminated for misconduct. Based on these conflicting statements, DOC terminated complainant on the basis that her conduct violated DOC administrative regulations. On appeal before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), and subsequently before the Board, the DOC’s disciplinary termination was upheld. Complainant now seeks review of those decisions. I. Complainant initially contends that the statements she provided in the proceeding involving her supervisor were privileged and thus improperly relied upon as the basis for her termination by DOC. We disagree. {page 2}The determination of privilege is a question of law for the court. Club Valencia Homeowners Ass’n v. Valencia Associates, 712 P.2d 1024 (Colo. App. 1985). Generally, a common law privilege protects one who offers statements in the course of a judicial or quasi-judicial proceeding from most consequences for those statements. Department of Administration v. State Personnel Board, 703 P.2d 595 (Colo. App. 1985). The privilege was created to protect participants in these proceedings from liability for defamatory communications. See Lininger v. Knight, 123 Colo. 213, 226 P.2d 809 (1951). The policy underlying the privilege is that for the judicial process to function effectively, those who participate in it must be able to do so without being hampered by the fear of private suits for defamation. See MacLarty v. Whiteford, 30 Colo. App. 378, 496 P.2d 1071 (1972). While this privilege is most frequently applied in libel and slander cases, it has also been applied in a case in which statements given in a quasi-judicial proceeding resulted in disciplinary action against the participant. Thus, in Department of Administration v. State Personnel Board, supra, the opinion reflects that a state employee made comments about another employee during a meeting held to investigate certain misconduct charges. The first employee was later suspended as a result of his comments. A division of this court reversed the {page 3}suspension, finding that the employee’s comments were privileged and that, therefore, the disciplinary action was improper. Contrary to complainant’s contention, however, we do not view Department of Administration v. State Personnel Board, supra, as support for her claim of privilege here. Unlike in that case, here there are specific regulations governing complainant’s conduct. First, DOC Reg. 1150-1, Section V(C), then in effect, provided that:
It is the responsibility of all Department of Corrections and contract personnel to cooperate fully with the office of the Inspector General.

In addition, DOC Reg. 1450-1 then provided:

Each person in public office in the executive branch of government:

. . .

2) Shall demonstrate the highest standards of personal integrity, truthfulness and honesty and shall through personal conduct inspire public confidence and trust in government.

Taken together, these regulations required complainant to assist the investigators with full and accurate disclosure of relevant information throughout their investigation and to testify truthfully at any hearing. Conversely, complainant makes no claim in this court that the regulations in any manner constitute the invalid exercise of DOC authority or that she was {page 4}unaware of the requirements of these regulations. Similarly, there is no claim that the public policy supporting adoption of the regulations for the correction system is in any manner subject to question. See LaChance v. Erickson, 522 U.S. 262, 118 S.Ct. 753, 139 L.Ed.2d 695 (1998)(the Due Process Clause does not preclude sanctions against a federal employee for making false statements in response to charges of misconduct). Indeed, the need for cooperation and integrity in the corrections system parallels that for law enforcement in general in the context of efficient administration and public confidence in the system. Under these circumstances, we conclude that the common law privilege does not apply. To conclude otherwise would in our view undermine a valid public policy, potentially frustrate the investigation of improper conduct on the part of corrections officers, and create a safe harbor for deliberate violation of valid regulations. To the extent complainant relies upon Lininger v. Knight, supra, we view that case as inapplicable as well. Lininger addresses the privilege in the context of a petition presented in good faith to a county asserting that certain acts were required to enhance the public welfare. Here, the Board was faced with conflicting statements, some of which had to be willfully false, that impacted an investigation of misconduct on the part of a supervisory official. II. Complainant next contends that DOC is barred by the doctrine of judicial estoppel from terminating her employment. Specifically, complainant asserts that DOC took the position in the supervisor’s proceeding that her recantation of the allegations of sexual assault was false. Now, according to complainant, DOC is taking a contrary position. We are not persuaded. To prevail under a theory of judicial estoppel, complainant must establish, among other things, that the two positions taken by DOC are totally inconsistent. That is, the truth of one position must necessarily preclude the truth of the other. See Estate of Burford v. Burford, 935 P.2d 943 (Colo. 1997). Here, however, while DOC maintained in the supervisor’s case that claimant’s testimony was false, the termination decision in this proceeding was based upon the deliberate inconsistent statements made by complainant and the violation of the regulatory requirements for integrity and cooperation in an investigation. Hence, judicial estoppel does not apply. III. Complainant next contends that the doctrine of collateral estoppel precludes DOC from terminating her employment. Specifically, she argues that a determination whether her initial statements to the investigators were false was necessarily {page 6}litigated in the supervisor’s disciplinary proceeding and that the initial statements were found to be true. Accordingly, complainant reasons that DOC is thus precluded from pursuing a claim for violation of the regulations. Again, we are not persuaded. The principal issue litigated in the supervisor’s proceeding was whether any sexual harassment occurred. Here, however, that issue is only peripherally involved in the context of complainant’s deliberate and inconsistent statements about the incidents. Hence, the doctrine of collateral estoppel does not apply because the same issue is not being litigated. See Central Bank Denver, N.A. v. Mehaffey, Rider, Windholz & Wilson, 940 P.2d 1097 (Colo. App. 1997). Stated another way, the outcome here does not depend upon which version of her statements is true. IV. Complainant finally contends that the Board erred in failing to hold that the burden of proof was improperly shifted to her. According to complainant, because the letter of termination was based on her having taken inconsistent positions relative to the charges against her supervisor, DOC should have been required to elect which version of complainant’s information was correct and sought termination on that basis. We disagree. DOC’s principal position and the one it sustained before the ALJ on an evidentiary basis was that complainant violated the quoted regulations for the reasons previously stated. Contrary to complainant’s contention, DOC carried its burden in this regard, and thus the Board’s affirmance was correct. We have considered and are unpersuaded by complainant’s remaining contentions for reversal of the Board’s order. Order affirmed. JUDGE JONES and JUDGE DAVIDSON concur.


HOFFLER v. STATE OF COLORADO COLORADO COURT OF APPEALS November 12, 1999 No. 97CA1489 Patricia W. Hoffler, Complainant-Appellant, v. State of Colorado–State Personnel Board, and Department of Corrections, Respondents-Appellees. Appeal from the Colorado State Personnel Board No. 96BA58 Division III Opinion by JUDGE RULAND Jones and Davidson, JJ., concur ORDER AFFIRMED Prior Opinion Announced December 24, 1998, WITHDRAWN Petitions for Rehearing GRANTED Knapp & Sachs, P.C., Benjamin Sachs, Denver, Colorado, for Complainant-Appellant Gale A. Norton, Attorney General, Martha Phillips Allbright, Chief Deputy Attorney General, Richard A. Westfall, Solicitor General, Carolyn Lievers, Assistant Attorney General, Denver, Colorado, for Respondent-Appellee Department of Corrections Gale A. Norton, Attorney General, Martha Phillips Allbright, Chief Deputy Attorney General, Richard A. Westfall, Solicitor General, Mary S. McClatchey, Assistant Attorney General, Denver, Colorado, for Respondent-Appellee Colorado State Personnel Board
 
Reprints & Licensing
Mentioned in a Law.com story?

License our industry-leading legal content to extend your thought leadership and build your brand.

More From ALM

Premium Subscription

With this subscription you will receive unlimited access to high quality, online, on-demand premium content from well-respected faculty in the legal industry. This is perfect for attorneys licensed in multiple jurisdictions or for attorneys that have fulfilled their CLE requirement but need to access resourceful information for their practice areas.
View Now

Team Accounts

Our Team Account subscription service is for legal teams of four or more attorneys. Each attorney is granted unlimited access to high quality, on-demand premium content from well-respected faculty in the legal industry along with administrative access to easily manage CLE for the entire team.
View Now

Bundle Subscriptions

Gain access to some of the most knowledgeable and experienced attorneys with our 2 bundle options! Our Compliance bundles are curated by CLE Counselors and include current legal topics and challenges within the industry. Our second option allows you to build your bundle and strategically select the content that pertains to your needs. Both options are priced the same.
View Now

New Jersey Legal Awards (NJLA) 2022

September 29, 2022
Florham Park, NJ

New Jersey Law Journal honors lawyers leaving a mark on the legal community in New Jersey with their dedication to the profession.


Learn More

New York Legal Awards 2022 (NYLA)

October 06, 2022
New York, NY

The New York Law Journal honors attorneys and judges who have made a remarkable difference in the legal profession in New York.


Learn More

Women, Influence & Power in Law Awards (WIPLA) 2022

October 18, 2022
Washington, DC

Women, Influence & Power in Law Awards honors women lawyers who have made a remarkable difference in the legal profession.


Learn More

Assistant General Counsel


An international multibillion-dollar manufacturing company in Tampa is seeking an Associate General Counsel to handle a variety of the compa...


Apply Now ›

Tax and T&E Attorney


The Tampa office of a highly-regarded regional law firm is seeking to add depth to their strong transactional team by adding experienced tax...


Apply Now ›

CORPORATE ATTORNEYS - REMOTE, CT


Shipman is seeking two attorneys, one with 4-6 years of experience and one with 8+ years of experience, to join our corporate and transactio...


Apply Now ›

SCHULTEN WARD TURNER & WEISS, LLP

09/21/2022
DR Web

Schulten Ward Turner & Weiss, LLP is pleased to announce that John Gracia has joined the firm as a partner.


View Announcement ›

WISNIEWSKI & ASSOCIATES

09/12/2022
NJLJ Web

WISNIEWSKI & ASSOCIATES LLC Takes pleasure in announcing that Civil Litigator DOUGLAS R. D ANTONIO has become a Partner of the Firm.


View Announcement ›

SCHULTEN WARD TURNER & WEISS, LLP

09/06/2022
DBR Web

Schulten Ward Turner & Weiss, LLP would like to announce that...


View Announcement ›