Lawsuit by fired Phila. teacher claims she wasn't afforded arbitration hearing

By Jon Campisi | Apr 24, 2012

A fired Philadelphia School District teacher who claims she was never afforded the opportunity to have an arbitration hearing prior to her discharge has filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the school system.

In her civil complaint, filed April 20 at Philadelphia’s Court of Common Pleas by Philadelphia attorney Frank Finch, III, Wyndmoor, Pa. resident Kia Johnson-Thomas, who was first hired by the district in late November 1997, alleges that she was fired in July 2011 without being given the opportunity to have a termination hearing before the School Reform Commission pursuant to her employment contract.

Johnson-Thomas was a tenured teacher and member of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers at the time of her firing, the complaint states.

The lawsuit, which also names as codefendants the SRC and former acting superintendent Leroy D. Nunery, II, claims that Johnson-Thomas should have been given the opportunity to have an arbitration hearing as per the terms of the union’s collective bargaining agreement with the school district.

The teacher’s union had informed the plaintiff that it would not be requesting an arbitration of the fired teacher’s grievances, according to the lawsuit.

According to the complaint, the SRC informed the plaintiff in August 2010 that her teaching performance was rated unsatisfactory for the previous school year.

Johnson-Thomas, the suit states, alleged that the unsatisfactory rating related to a “single isolated incident” during the 2009-10 school year in which she rejected her principal’s advice that the teacher rearrange her classroom.

Johnson-Thomas filed a grievance in late June 2010 contesting the unsatisfactory rating.

The teachers’ union and the district, however, failed to process the plaintiff’s grievance and has not given Johnson-Thomas an explanation as to that decision to date, the lawsuit claims.

After being transferred to another program following the unsatisfactory rating, Johnson-Thomas suffered a foot injury while at work and she has been unable to return to her profession ever since, collecting workers’ compensation benefits to date.

In late July, Johnson-Thomas received a letter stating that her employment was terminated effective July 1, 2011, according to the complaint.

Her termination letter stated that Johnson-Thomas’s workers’ compensation had run out, and it contained other false statements as well, the lawsuit claims.

On Aug. 31, 2011, two months after Johnson-Thomas submitted her formal grievance, the teachers’ union informed her and her attorney that it would not be taking her case to arbitration.

The union’s Dismissal Case Review Committee affirmed that decision late last year.

Late last summer, the school district also informed Johnson-Thomas that the termination decision would not be rescinded.

The lawsuit accuses the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers of bad faith and conflicts of interest for not backing Johnson-Thomas.

“… The PFT’s refusal to take Plaintiff’s case to arbitration was motivated not by a bona fide assessment of the merits of her case, but only by an organizational self-interest,” the lawsuit states.

That self-interest, the complaint alleges, was related to the union’s desire to avoid first-year PAR Program grievance arbitrations.

The PAR Program, which stands for Peer Assistance and Review Program, is a mandatory program for tenured teachers who have been rated unsatisfactory in the previous school year.

PAR was where Johnson-Thomas was sent following her unsatisfactory job rating.

As a result of her firing, Johnson-Thomas has suffered “personal injuries, frustration and anxiety, personal embarrassment, professional setbacks, injury to her reputation and good name, personal pain, suffering and humiliation, all of which will continue to deleteriously affect her for an indefinite period of time in the future,” the complaint states.

The lawsuit accuses the defendants of violating the Pennsylvania Public School Code and the state constitution.

It also alleges due process violations, as well as breach of contract and breach of duty of fair representation.

The suit seeks declaratory judgment, compensatory damages in excess of $50,000, and other equitable and legal relief.


The case ID number is 120402340.


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