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Arbitrator's decision in teacher dispute affirmed by county court

Published January 05. 2010 05:00PM

An abitrator's decision which granted a grievance filed by the Panther Valley Education Association on behalf of teacher Robert Jay Thomas, has been affirmed in a memorandum opinion handed down by a Carbon County judge.

President Judge Roger N. Nanovic II said the decision of the arbitrator in the dispute between Thomas and the Panther Valley School District over his right be be recalled and reinstated to another teaching position after the program in which he was teaching was termindated, should be affirmed. He ruled Thomas should be reinstated as a teacher and is entitled to "back pay and all other financial emoluments for the period for which he should have been recalled, less monies earned by him during the period."

Nanovic ruled that the findings of the arbitrator are binding upon the school district and "will be affirmed, with the award modified as indicated."

In the opinon Nanovic noted that for two years, between Nov. 12, 2004, and Aug. 10, 2006, Thomas was employed by the distirct as a sixth grade teacher in its alternative education program. He was considered a temporary professional employee within the meaning of the state school code except for tenure status. He was considered a full-time employee, entitled to all the rights and privileges of regular full-time employees.

In the summer of 2006 the board discontinued the program and notified Thomas of the decision. In a letter from then superintendent, J. Christopher West, Thomas was informed that his employment contract was not being renewed because of the "change in status" of the alternative education program.

On Sept. 13, 2006, the PVEA filed a grievance on behalf of Thomas over the district's failure to recall him for an open teaching position in his area of certification, health and physical education. The grievance noted that Thomas was placed on the PV layoff and recall list. The PVEA claimed the district failed to recall him according to the contract the association has with the district.

A hearing was held before an arbitrator who ruled in favor of the PVEA and Thomas. The school district then appealed that decision to the county court. Legal briefs were submitted by solictor Atty. Robert T. Yurchak on behalf of the district, and Atty. A. Martin Herring, who represented the education association and Thomas in the proceedings.

The district contended that Thomas was dismissed by the district as a temporary professional employee because of an unsatisfactory rating or his dismissal, and had waived the right to do so. However, the arbitrator found that the district "misunderstood" the grievance.

The arbitrator ruled that Thomas did not contest the unsatisfactory rating, but the grievance was based on the labor agreement with the board and the PVEA over the recall of furlough employees.

In the award, the arbitrator said Thomas should be reinstated to a position he is qualified to teach in the school district and that Thomas "shall be made whole for all wages, seniority and benefits from the date of Aug. 11, 2006, and until the date of reinstatement."

In his 15-page opinion Nanovic wrote, "An arbitrator's award must be respected by the judiciary which is barred from substituting its judgment for that of the arbitrator if the arbitrator's 'interpretation can in any rational way be derived from the agreement, viewed in light of its language, its context, and other indicia of the parties' intention."

Nanovic ruled that Thomas, as a temporary professional employee hired to teach in the district's alternative education program, is "clearly within the Bargaining Unit."

Nanovic cites the state school code and Thomas' employment contract as supporting the contention that Thomas "shall for all purposes, except tenure status, be viewed in law as full-time employe, and shall enjoy all the rights and privileges of regular full-time employes."

The district has a right to appeal Nanovic's decision to the state's Commonwealth Court.

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