Former Philly schools contracted employee sues district for wrongful termination

Jon Campisi Sep. 22, 2011, 9:29am

A woman who formerly worked in a contracted position at a city high school but was let go after district supervisors discovered a discrepancy in her paycheck and blamed her for not being forthcoming, is suing the School District of Philadelphia for wrongful termination.

The civil suit was filed Sept. 20 at the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas by attorney Karin M. Gunter on behalf of Philadelphia resident Patricia H. Bulack.

Named as additional defendants in the lawsuit are Rosalind Chivis, the principal of the school district’s High School of the Future, and John F. Downs, the district’s inspector general.

According to the complaint, West Park Cultural and Opportunity Center sent Bulack to High School of the Future in September 2009 as its afterschool program coordinator. Her volunteer position was to administer afterschool arts programming at the high school.

As a result of her volunteer work, the high school’s assistance principal began talking to Bulack about the possibility of coming to work for the school as an employee.

In June 2010, West Park received a $30,000 grant from the Philadelphia Cultural Fund to administer programming throughout the summer and into the following school year at the high school, the suit states. Around that same time, Chivis, the high school’s principal, approached Bulack about employment.

On Aug. 24, 2010, Chivis and Bulack entered into a one-year contractual agreement for the 2010-11 school year, the complaint states.

Bulack was told her position, that of school resources developer, would be funded through private monies from a philanthropist, but as a condition of the donator, her payments would be made through the school district’s payroll department, the suit states.

Bulack was to earn $25 per hour.

Bulack’s first paycheck was expected to be large, the suit states, since it would be covering a period from Sept. 1 through Nov. 19, 2010, more than two months worth of pay.

Upon receipt of her paycheck, Bulack questioned its size to her superiors, but she was told not worry, that everything was in order.

In March of this year, however, Bulack was contacted by the school district, which informed her she was overpaid by $24,000, the suit states. Days later, Bulack was escorted out the high school building and told her employment was terminated for allegations of “theft by deception.”

Bulack had been unaware that her principal had filed a complaint with the district’s Office of Inspector General regarding the alleged overpayment of wages, the complaint states.

The OIG eventually reduced its overpayment claim to $15,915, but nevertheless upheld Bulack’s termination.

In late March, Bulack was threatened with further legal action, such as prosecution, if she did not repay funds to the district, which she began doing shortly thereafter.

Still, Bulack contends that she approached the district about the discrepancies from the get-go, only to be told everything was “OK.”

The lawsuit accuses the school district of one count of wrongful termination, and a separate count of tortious interference with contractual relations. The latter has to do with the fact that as a result of her wrongful termination from the district, her employment contract with West Park as an afterschool program coordinator has been limited.

For each count listed in the suit, Bulack demands judgment against the defendants for an amount not in excess of $50,000, plus attorney’s fees, interest and related costs.

The matter is scheduled for arbitration in late May 2012.

The case number is 110902112.

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