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Nut Allergy Lawsuit

Partner, Patricia R. Andrews prevails in  defense of Fox Chapel School District food allergy case.

T.F. a minor, by his parents, D.F. and T.S.F. on their own behalf,  v. Fox Chapel Area School District (Third Circuit)

In a civil rights action alleging disability discrimination and retaliation, parents were unable to support their claims that the school district acted with deliberate indifference to their son’s severe tree nut allergy.  Parents removed their kindergarten aged son to attend private school over a dispute regarding the student’s seating in the cafeteria.  The District Court observed that while the school district’s actions “may have fallen short of perfection, the evidence indicated that the district diligently sought to meet the child’s needs, and that there was no evidence of serious and repeated failures” in meeting the student’s needs.   The District worked with the parents for several months prior to the start of the school year in proposing and revising 504 plan which incorporated nearly all of the parents’ requested accommodations.

The School District prevailed at the Administrative level on the 504 education plans developed for the student.  However, the Hearing Officer held that the required actions by the principal in addressing the student’s absences and truancy were retaliatory.  In an important decision for all school districts faced with student absences, Judge Schwab ruled that the plaintiffs must demonstrate that the desire to retaliate was the “but for” cause of filing the truancy proceedings.  (See, University of Texas Southern Medical Center v. Nassar, ___U.S. ___, 133 S. Ct. 2517, 2525, 186 L. Ed. 2d 503 )(applying “but for” to Title VII retaliation claims).  The requirement to establish a causal connection (a desire to retaliate as cause for adverse action) will assist school districts in defending retaliation claims.  Importantly, the Court found no evidence of any pattern of antagonism between the parties or that the District officials acted in an unprofessional or unsympathetic manner.

The parents appealed this case to the Third Circuit. On September 23, 2014, the Third Circuit upheld the District Court’s opinion in favor of the School District.

 

Andrews & Price attorneys prevail in internet pornography discharge case.

We recently prevailed in a grievance wherein a teacher was discharged from employment with a school district for just cause. The district maintained that the teacher’s use of school computer equipment to access pornography during class time and for other illicit purposes, all in violation of well-established school policy prohibiting such conduct, warranted his discharge. The union argued that termination was improper because the parties had an unwritten agreement to return the teacher to work at the conclusion of medical sabbatical leave. The district had permitted the teacher to take a medical sabbatical leave after it was discovered that he had engaged in the aformentioned behavior.

In finding for the district, the arbitrator relied heavily on the district solicitor’s testimony. The arbitrator concluded that there was no agreement betweent the parties to permit the techer to return to work at the end of the sabbatical. Several union witnesses had testified on behalf of th the teacher in an attempt to establish the existence of an agreement. So what was the key evidence other than the solicitor’s testimony? The contemporaneous memo created and retained by the solicitor which documented the discipline remained open during the pertinent time period.

This case once again demonstrates the importance of creating and maintaining documentation-employment-related cases are often won and lost in large part due to the existence or lack of documentation. As the Chinese proverb goes, “the palest ink is better than the best memory.” This belief is often embraced by fact finders of all sorts. The existence of documentation strongly supported the solicitor’s version of the facts.

Should you have any questions regarding this matter or any labor and/or employment related matter, please contact the attorneys of Andrews & Price. We will be glad to discuss this matter or any other employment-related questions for which you seek answers.

Andrews & Price attorneys prevail in Third Circuit appeal challenging the dismissal of a lawsuit alleging a school district’s failure to implement its closed-door policy on campus was a state-created danger.

In a sad and unfortunate case, a student left school early without his parent’s knowledge or permission with another student. The students were involved in a deadly vehicular accident directly in front of the school parking lot.

The school district had policies restricting student’s from leaving school early without permission. Parents of the deceased student filed suit alleging that the district’s failure to implement its policy on early dismissal was a direct cause of the student’s death. In its Motion to Dismiss, the school district asserted that the plaintiffs failed to sufficiently plead a state-created danger claim. The Distric Court agreed further finding that the complaint failed to plead a plausible claim for relief. The alleged failure to enforce the attenance/early dismissal policy was too attenuated from the direct cause of the student’s death which was his voluntary choice to leave school in another student’s vehicle.

On appeal to the Third Ciruit plaintiffs argued that they had sufficiently pleaded a claim for relief and that at the dismissal stage all facts should be held in their favor. The Court of Appeals disagreed and found under the pleading standards of Iqbal and Twombly plaintiffs must plead more than conclusory allegations in order to withstand dismissal.

Andrews & Price attorneys prevail in dismissing civil rights claim alleging restriction of right to interstate travel and denial of equal protection in not crediting out-of-state teaching experience.

Patrick S. Connelly v. Steel Valley School District, No. 11-851, Mem. Op. Judge Lancaster, October 20, 2011 (W.D. PA).

In this civil rights action, the Plaintiff argued that his right to interstate travel under the under the Privileges or Immunities clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and his right to equal protection of the law was violated by the School District’s failure to credit his out-of-state teaching experience for purposes of setting his pay.

The School District moved to dismiss the action arguing that the claims were time-barred and that the complaint failed to state a claim on the merits because the allegedly discriminatory classification (of not crediting out-of-state teaching experience) did not burden his right to interstate travel.

The Court found that his claims were timely but that he did not assert a cognizable Fourteenth Amendment claim because the alleged classification was based upon location of teaching experience not residency.

Plaintiff was hired by the School District in 2006 and continued to teach through June 2011. Prior to working at Steel Valley, Plaintiff had nine years of teaching experience in Maryland. The School District sets new hires’ salaries using a system that took into account both the teacher’s educational background and teaching experience. At the time of his hire, Connelly was only given one year of credit because his prior experience was obtained exclusively outside of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Plaintiff’s starting salary was $38, 023 where if given credit for all nine years he would have started at $49, 476.

On the issue of timeliness, the School District argued that Plaintiff’s alleged harm accrued in 2006 and borrowing from Pennsylvania’s personal injury two-year limitations period the Section 1983 claim was time-barred. Plaintiff argued that his claims were timely based upon the paycheck accrual rule. The Court held that while the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 (“FPA”) was silent with respect to 1983 claims, the overall purpose of the FPA was to eliminate the Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber, Co., Inc. 550 U.S. 618 (2007) abolishment of the paycheck accrual rule for discrimination claims. In accepting this overall purpose, Judge Lancaster adopted the 7th Circuit’s reasoning in Groesch v. City of Springfield, 635 F.3d 1020, 1027 (7th Cir. 2011). The Court ruled that the Plaintiff’s claims were timely as to paychecks received from June 28, 2009 to filing of his complaint.

As to Plaintiff’s constitutional claims, the Court analyzed both as amenable to equal protection analysis. Finding that the allegations of the complaint did not restrict a fundamental right to travel and that the alleged classification did not invoke a suspect class, the court upheld the School District’s actions under a rational basis test. The alleged classification treated long-term Pennsylvania residents the same as non-residents and was not drawn on the basis of state citizenship or residency. The School District treated all out-of-state teaching experience the same.

The complaint was dismissed as it failed to allege disparate treatment based on citizenship, and because the School District’s classification of teaching experience held up to rational basis review.

This case is currently on appeal to the Third Circuit.

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