Administrative Furloughs-Principal and Assistant Principal are not a similar class or type of position.

Nadia Engel v. Ellwood City Area School District, 2023 WL 1807150 (Commw. Ct 2023)

An assistant principal was furloughed by Ellwood City Area School District following a decrease in student enrollment. Following the furlough, the position of principal became vacant. The assistant principal challenged the furlough and argued the right to recall in the Principal position. The Commonwealth Court held that the furlough was proper and that plaintiff was not entitled to reinstatement as principal as the position of assistant principal is not of the same class, type, or sort as the position of principal.

Participation of charter students in extracurriculars-Charter School Law does not provide remedy for dispute between school district and charter school for recoupment for extracurricular costs of charter students

Saucon Valley School District v. Commonwealth Charter Academy, No. C-48-CV-2022-1284 (Crt of Common Pleas of Northampton Co. 2022)

Students residing in Saucon Valley School District attended Commonwealth Charter Academy, but participated in extracurricular activities through Saucon Valley. Saucon Valley sent the Academy invoices to cover the students’ participation in the activities. The Academy sent checks for less than requested by the District, and Saucon Valley filed suit to seek damages for a violation of the Charter School Law (CSL).  The court held that the CSL does not confer to the District an implied cause of action for civil damages, despite a Basic Education Circular released by the Pennsylvania Department of Education stating that a school district may charge a charter school for participation in extracurricular activities as it is a part of the per-pupil payment made to charter schools.

Transportation Contracts-Transportation contract’s language requiring transport on regular school days proves decisive.

School Express, Inc. v. Upper Adams School District, 2023 WL 126923 (Commw. Ct. 2023)

School Express Inc. (“SEI”) filed suit against Upper Adams School District for breach of contract when Upper Adams did not pay SEI for transporting students during the COVID-19 Emergency. The contract for transportation of students required transportation on “regular school days”. As a result of the COVID-19 closure of schools, Upper Adams did not provide in-person instruction and did not pay SEI as no students were transported.  SEI subsequently demanded payment for the time frame of March 2020 to the end of the 2020 Academic year. The court held there was no genuine issue of fact concerning the breach of contract claim, and “regular school days” did not include the days where school was held remotely.

Labor Arbitration-Arbitrator’s decision to return instructor accused of sexual harassment does not violate public policy

Clarion Co. Career Ctr v. Clarion Co. Career Ctr Education Assoc., 2022 WL 17574178 (Commw. Ct. 2022)

An instructor at the Clarion County Career Center was terminated following a variety of complaints including sexual harassment and inappropriate comments regarding a students’ intellectual capabilities. His employment was subject to a CBA, which included a grievance procedure with a provision for binding arbitration as a final step. Employees subject to the CBA could not be discharged, disciplined, or reduced in rank or compensation without “just cause” which was not defined in the agreement.  The arbitrator concluded that though the Career Center proved by substantial evidence that the instructor was responsible for the alleged conduct, terminating him was excessive because the degree of discipline was not reasonably related to the seriousness of the offense and the instructor’s work record. The Center appealed, and the trial court vacated the arbitrator’s award and stated that it “poses a substantial risk of undermining public policy”. The Commonwealth Court held that the arbitration award did not violate public policy when it modified the termination to a 180-day suspension. The court held that a 180-day suspension was a serious enough punishment to not frustrate Pennsylvania’s public policy against sexual harassment and discrimination.

RTKL-Disclosure of membership in a union is protected by right of freedom of association requiring balancing test of privacy interest and public’s interest in disclosure.

McDonough and Freedom Found. v. City of Pittsburgh (Office of Open Records 2022)

Freedom Foundation sought information on each of Pittsburgh’s employees who were employed in the union represented bargaining unit of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 13. The purpose of the request was purportedly to inform these employees of their constitutional rights. Pittsburgh interpreted the request as seeking records that would necessarily disclose individuals’ union membership status, and considering the confusing nature of the request, the OOR concluded that the City’s interpretation was reasonable and that no disclosure was needed. In making its ruling, the OOR stated that when a request for records implicates personal information not expressly exempt from disclosure under the RTKL, the individual’s interest in informational privacy must be balanced with the public’s interest in disclosure. The information may be released when the public benefit outweighs the privacy interest. In the instant matter, the OOR noted that it is well-established that an employee’s membership in a labor union is protected by the constitutional right to freedom of association. They held that informing employees of their rights did not justify violating other constitutional rights, and that whether a particular employee of Pittsburgh is or is not a member of a labor union is of no consequence to the public. Thus, in applying the balancing test, the employees’ privacy interest in the union membership outweighed Freedom Foundation’s proffered reasons why the disclosure of such information would benefit the public.


Free speech-Plaintiff’s interest in commenting on matter of public concern does not outweigh employer’s interest in protecting from disruption.

Vallecorsa v. Allegheny County, et al, 2022 WL 169504446 (W.D. Pa. 2022)

Plaintiff worked as a telecommunications officer for defendant, the Allegheny Department of Emergency Services, a position of public employment. In that position, she was responsible for answering 911 phone calls and dispatching emergency assistance. On June 24, 2018, in the wake of the Antwon Rose shooting, plaintiff engaged in a Facebook conversation that expressed support for police officers, implied Rose was guilty of some unspecified offense, and suggested that the rioters were in the wrong. She made these comments in her capacity as a private citizen while off duty, and believed that only her Facebook friends could view the exchange. An unrelated individual took a screenshot of the post, reported it himself, and tagged the Allegheny County Emergency Services page. This screenshot circulated overnight, and the next day defendant received emails, phone calls, and social media comments expressing disbelief and outrage, and questioning the integrity and abilities of the center to perform its duties given the apparent attitudes of the employees. Ultimately, the defendants terminated plaintiff’s employment, determining that the posts violated several department policies, stirred public outcry and mistrust in the department. The plaintiff filed suit, challenging her termination based on her First Amendment right to freedom of speech. The court used the balancing test outlined in Pickering, and assumed for summary judgment purposes that the plaintiff spoke as a private citizen and that her statements involved a matter of public concern. They found that there was no violation of the first amendment, stated that the plaintiff’s interest in commenting on matter of public concern does not outweigh the defendant’s interest in providing emergency services without disruption to the public under the Pickering test.

Christina L. Lane
Christina L. Lane

Christina Lane is an accomplished school, municipal, labor and employment attorney representing public sector employers. She has extensive knowledge and experience with Title IX and often serves as a third-party investigator.