Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law

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Dr. Susan Kegerise sought reinstatement as superintendent of the Susquehanna Township School District, as well as back pay and benefits. In January 2010, Kegerise was appointed superintendent. In 2013, the District’s Board of Directors extended Kegerise’s contract for a three-year term after agreeing, at Kegerise’s request, to include a resignation provision in her employment contract. Kegerise alleged this resignation clause was necessary to protect her interests in light of several Board members’ inappropriate behavior. Kegerise further alleged that, this clause notwithstanding, and in an effort to force her resignation, several Board members persisted in hostile actions including, inter alia, physical intimidation and verbal abuse, even after the contract was executed. In 2014, Kegerise informed the Board that she was receiving medical care and would be unable to return to work until April 21, 2014. While Kegerise was on medical leave, the Board received several letters from Kegerise’s counsel asserting that Kegerise had been constructively discharged. The Board responded by affirming that Kegerise remained the Superintendent of Schools, and that “[h]er time away from the District since that day has been recorded as sick leave derived from Dr. Kegerise’s pre-existing sick leave accumulation.” On April 17, 2014, Kegerise filed a complaint at the United States District Court, alleging, inter alia, that the Board had constructively discharged her. Kegerise asserted that, “although no formal termination has taken place, [she] cannot perform the job duties of Superintendent,” due to the Board’s behavior toward her. Kegerise sought damages in excess of six million dollars, including compensatory and economic damages “for loss of contractual salary and other emoluments of employment” and consequential damages for “damage to professional reputation and loss of future salary as an educational administrator.” The trial court held an evidentiary hearing to determine whether Kegerise had intended to resign when she filed her federal complaint, after which, it ordered the Board to reinstate Kegerise to her position with back pay and benefits. The Board appealed to the Commonwealth Court; the Commonwealth Court affirmed the trial court’s grant of mandamus. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, however, found Kegerise did not demonstrate to a clear legal right to reinstatement. Accordingly, the orders reinstating her as superintendent with back pay and benefits was reversed. View "Kegerise v. Delgrande, et al," on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC) appealed directly to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court a decision by the Commonwealth Court entering a $3.2 million verdict in favor of plaintiff-appellee Ralph Bailets after a bench trial of his claims arising under the Pennsylvania Whistleblower Law. PTC presented a question of first impression in Pennsylvania: whether non-economic damages for items such as embarrassment, humiliation, loss of reputation and mental anguish were available to plaintiffs in actions brought under the Law. Additionally, if non-economic damages are authorized under the Law, PTC asked the Supreme Court to determine whether the verdict amount was excessive in this case. After review, the Court concluded non-economic damages were available to successful plaintiffs under the Law and the trial court did not err or abuse its discretion in entering a verdict amount of $1.6 million for non-economic damages. Accordingly, the judgment was affirmed. View "Bailets v. Pa. Turnpike Commission" on Justia Law

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Bruce Edwards, Joseph Sarkis and Joseph Kovel (collectively, “Claimants”) were Pennsylvania State Police (“PSP”) officers and members of the Pennsylvania State Troopers Association (“PSTA”). The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (“Commonwealth”) and PSTA were parties to a collective bargaining agreement, which expired on June 30, 2008. During negotiations for a successor agreement, the Commonwealth and PSTA reached an impasse regarding, inter alia, union officer leave. An Act 111 interest arbitration panel was convened, and it issued an award on December 24, 2008 (“December Award”) that included, in relevant part, compensation for officers on leave while working on union duties. The Office of Administration (“OA”) and PSP (collectively, “Appellants”) appealed the December Award to the Commonwealth Court, arguing that the arbitration award violated the creditable leave provision found in section 5302(b)(2) of the Retirement Code, 71 Pa.C.S. section 5302(b)(2), as, in their view, that section obligated the Commonwealth to pay troopers on leave only the compensation she or he would receive as if in full-time active duty. The issue this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s review centered on whether compensation paid at higher amounts to those employees on leave had to be considered when computing that employee’s retirement benefit under the Retirement Code. To that end, the Court had to decide whether Kirsch v. Pub. Sch. Emp.’ Ret. Bd., 985 A.2d 671 (Pa. 2009), in which the Court decided the same issue under the companion Public School Employees Retirement Code, 24 Pa.C.S. sections 8101–9102 (“PSERC”), also applied here. After review, the Supreme Court concluded the relevant statutory provisions of the Retirement Code and PSERC differed significantly and thus compelled a contrary result. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the Commonwealth Court. View "Office of Admin. v. State Employees' Retirement Bd." on Justia Law

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The employer, Allegheny County, was ordered to pay $14,750.00 in attorney’s fees under Section 440 of the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act after the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (“WCAB”) determined that the County unreasonably contested its liability under the Act. Though the County sought supersedeas of that order, arguing that the finding of liability was in error, supersedeas was denied. Thus, the County complied with the order and paid the awarded fee to the employee’s counsel. Upon reaching the merits of the County’s appeal, however, the Commonwealth Court reversed, concluding that the County not only had a reasonable basis for its contest, but a prevailing one, and that the employee was no longer entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. Thereafter, the County filed a separate petition before a Workers’ Compensation Judge (“WCJ”) in which it sought reimbursement of the erroneously awarded attorney’s fees from the employee’s counsel. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted allowance of appeal in this matter to consider whether a court could order an employee’s attorney to disgorge erroneously awarded, but already paid, unreasonable contest attorney’s fees pursuant to Section 440, when the substantive basis for the award was later overturned on appeal. The Supreme Court found that the General Assembly, in enacting the Workers’ Compensation Act, did not provide any mechanism by which employers could recoup erroneously awarded counsel fees, once paid. The General Assembly contemplated that when a merits appeal is undertaken, a court may grant supersedeas of an order awarding attorney’s fees. Because such a supersedeas was requested and denied in this case, the Court held that the County may not recoup the already paid attorney’s fees from the employee’s counsel. The Court vacated the Commonwealth Court’s order and reinstated the order of the WCAB, which affirmed the denial of the County’s reimbursement petition. View "County of Allegheny v. WCAB (Parker)" on Justia Law

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In this appeal, the issue presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s review centered on whether access to public information available pursuant to section 614 of the Administrative Code of 1929, 71 P.S. 234, was governed by the Right-to-Know Law (“RTKL”). On January 15, 2014, then-Treasurer Robert McCord received a letter from Appellees, Pennsylvanians for Union Reform (“PFUR”), demanding production of a list of names. PFUR’s letter stated that “this is not a request pursuant to the [RTKL],” but that instead, “[t]his is a request for the public information which is mandated to be available from your office under Section 614 of the Administrative Code of 1929 (“List of Employees to be Furnished to Certain State Officers”).” The Treasurer replied that he considered PFUR’s demand to be a request under the RTKL and would proceed accordingly. PFUR objected to application of the RTKL, and the Treasurer filed a petition for review in the nature of an action for declaratory and injunctive relief in the Commonwealth Court’s original jurisdiction. The Treasurer alleged that the List contained information that he believed exempt from public disclosure under the RTKL and the Pennsylvania Web Accountability and Transparency Act (“PennWATCH Act”). The Supreme Court concluded the RTKL governed the method of access to section 614 information, but that the exceptions to disclosure under the RTKL, 65 P.S. 37.708, did not apply to permit redactions from otherwise publicly available information. “Before disclosing any section 614 information, however, the State Treasurer must perform the balancing test set forth in Pa. State Educ. Ass'n v. Commonwealth , Dep't of Cmty. & Econ. Dev., 148 A.3d 142 (Pa. 2016) (“PSEA”), to ensure that disclosures of personal information do not violate any individual’s rights of informational privacy under Article 1, Section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.” View "PA Treasurer v. Union Reform" on Justia Law

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In an appeal by allowance, the issue presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s review was whether, in the context of a grievance arbitration award, an arbitrator has subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate a dispute between a union and a municipality arising out of a surviving spouse’s pension benefit, where the benefit was afforded to the surviving spouse statutorily and incorporated into the parties’ collective bargaining agreement (CBA). Pamela Cimino’s husband, Thomas J. Cimino, was a police officer for the City of Arnold, Pennsylvania (City) from July 1, 1990 until April 4, 2002. On April 4, 2002, Officer Cimino died off-duty of natural causes. At the time of his death, Officer Cimino had completed 11.77 years of service. The City issued Mrs. Cimino 142 consecutive monthly death benefit payments, from May 1, 2002 to February 1, 2014. However, in a 2014 compliance audit, the Commonwealth Auditor General’s Office determined that the City was incorrectly administering the death benefit. According to the Auditor General’s compliance audit, the City had been paying Mrs. Cimino twice as much as it should have under its interpretation of the applicable statute. The Wage Policy Committee of the City of Arnold Police Department (Union) initiated a grievance on behalf of Mrs. Cimino to dispute the 50% reduction in her death benefit pension payments. The Union followed the grievance procedure contained in the CBA between the City and the Union. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded a dispute as here was arbitrable under the Policemen and Firemen Collective Bargaining Act (“Act 111”), 43 P.S. secs. 217.1-217.10, because the surviving spouse’s pension benefit was incorporated into the CBA. Accordingly, the Court reversed the order of the Commonwealth Court which held to the contrary. View "City of Arnold v. Wage Policy Committee" on Justia Law

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A former West Point cadet could not qualify for veterans’ preference on applications for Commonwealth civil service jobs. Appellee Scott Blake attended West Point for three years, but did not graduate, was not obliged to perform any military service, and was honorably discharged prior to his third year. The Pennsylvania Civil Service Commission informed Blake he did not qualify for the preference because his time at West Point was not “creditable as ‘time in service.’” Blake maintains the CSC had made an erroneous determination and cited two federal statutory provisions as evidence that cadet time is considered both “active duty,” and “active service.” After reviewing the relevant statutory language, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded the General Assembly did not intend to bestow a veterans’ preference to someone who was a cadet at a military academy, but never obligated himself to perform, or otherwise undertook, any subsequent military service. View "Blake v. Pennsylvania Civil Service Commission" on Justia Law

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Section 306(a.2) of the Workers' Compensation Act allowed employers to demand that a claimant undergo an impairment -rating evaluation (IRE), during which a physician must determine the "degree of impairment" that is due to the claimant's compensable injury. In order to make this assessment, the Act required physicians to apply the methodology set forth in "the most recent edition" of the American Medical Association (AMA) Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment. In consolidated appeals, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court considered whether this mandate violated the constitutional requirement that all legislative power "be vested in a General Assembly, which shall consist of a Senate and a House of Representatives." In 2007, Mary Ann Protz sustained a work -related knee injury. Her employer, Derry Area School District (Derry), voluntarily began paying temporary total disability benefits. An IRE physician evaluated Protz and assigned to her a 10% impairment rating based upon the Sixth Edition of the American Medical Association Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment (the Guides). Because Protz's impairment rating was less than 50%, Derry filed a modification petition seeking to convert Protz's disability status from total to partial -the effect of which would be to limit the duration that Protz could receive workers' compensation benefits. A Workers' Compensation Judge (WCJ) granted the petition. Protz appealed to the Workers' Compensation Appeal Board, arguing that the General Assembly unconstitutionally delegated to the AMA the authority to establish criteria for evaluating permanent impairment. The Board rejected Protz's constitutional argument and affirmed the WCJ's decision. The Commonwealth Court reversed the Board, finding that the Act lacked "adequate standards to guide and restrain the AMA's exercise" of its delegated power to create a methodology for grading impairment. Derry and Protz appealed. The Supreme Court concluded the Pennsylvania Constitution prevented the General Assembly from passing off to another branch or body de facto control over matters of policy. The Court affirmed the Commonwealth Court's holding that Section 306(a.2) violated the non-delegation doctrine, however, found that Section 306(a.2) was unconstitutional in its entirety. View "Protz v. Workers Compensation Appeals Board" on Justia Law

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The issue before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in this matter was whether a recently terminated employee was an "employee" and, thus, entitled to inspect her personnel file, according to the Inspection of Employment Records Law ("the Personnel Files Act" or "the Act"). Reading the Personnel Files Act according to its plain terms, the Court concluded that former employees, who were not laid off with re-employment rights and who are not on a leave of absence, have no right to access their personnel files pursuant to the Act, regardless of how quickly following termination they request to do so. The Court reversed the contrary holding of the Commonwealth Court. View "Thomas Jefferson Univ Hosp v. Dept of Lab. & Ind." on Justia Law

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In a discretionary appeal, the issue before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court centered on whether a home rule municipality could amend its home rule charter to eliminate mandatory subjects of bargaining as defined by the Police and Firemen Collective Bargaining Act ("Act 111"), the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Act ("PLRA"), and applicable case law. Appellant, the Fraternal Order of Police, Fort Pitt Lodge No. 1 (“FOP”) was the exclusive collective bargaining representative for the police officers of Appellee, the City of Pittsburgh (“City”), pursuant to Act 111 and the PLRA. The City was subject to the Policemen’s Civil Service Act, which requires officer applicants be residents of the city at the time of application and throughout their term of employment. The General Assembly repealed the residency mandate in 2012. The parties met to bargain the residency issue, but were unable to reach an agreement. The matter went to arbitration, and pending those proceedings, the Pittsburgh City Council passed a resolution to place a referendum on the upcoming general election ballot asking the voters whether the City’s home rule charter should be amended to require all City employees and officials, including police and fire personnel, to maintain their domicile within the City. Voters approved the home rule charter amendment in 2013. The arbitration panel issued a Supplemental Interest Arbitration Award, which provided that the City-only residency requirement would immediately discontinue and be replaced with a different residency requirement: officers would be required to reside within a twenty-five air-mile radius from the Pittsburgh City-County Building. The City sought review with the court of common pleas, seeking to vacate the arbitration supplemental award. The Supreme Court found that to ensure that home rule municipalities would not abrogate the right of police and firefighters to collectively bargain, the General Assembly enacted Section 9 of Act 111, specifically providing that the act was applicable to every political subdivision in the Commonwealth, regardless of its adoption of a home rule charter. Because the home rule charter amendment changed or modified Act 111 by removing residency as a subject of collective bargaining, it violated Section 2962(e) of the Home Rule Charter law. Thus, based strictly on Section 2962 of the Home Rule Charter Law, the FOP was entitled to relief. The trial court affirming the supplemental interest arbitration award directing officers be required to reside within a twenty-five mile radius from the City-County Building was reinstated. View "City of Pittsburgh v. Fraternal Order of Police Ft. Pitt Ldg. 1" on Justia Law