Pennsylvania Record

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Judge allows CHRIA claim by fired Phila. special ed teacher to move forward

By Jon Campisi | Jan 30, 2014

U.s. district court judge william h. yohn jr.

A federal judge who previously dismissed, albeit without prejudice, a

complaint by a Philadelphia special education teacher who says he was fired because he omitted information about his criminal background on his employment application is now allowing two additional claims raised in the plaintiff’s amended complaint to move forward.

On Jan. 17, U.S. District Court Judge William Yohn denied a dismissal motion filed by Philadelphia School District lawyers seeking to scrap the remaining two counts in Luis M. Negron’s federal lawsuit.

In his amended complaint, the plaintiff states claims of state constitutional violations and violations of Pennsylvania’s Criminal History Record Information Act.

Back in August, the Pennsylvania Record reported on Negron’s case, which involves allegations that he was fired from his job in late January 2011 because the district discovered criminal charges against the man stemming from unspecified incidences in the late 1990s.

Negron was told he was being fired for making misrepresentations regarding his criminal history on his job application.

The plaintiff, however, maintains that he was not required by law to include information about those convictions because he has successfully completed the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition Program, or ARD.

In his lawsuit, Negron claimed the job application itself said he was not required to list those convictions if he had completed ARD.

This past August, Yohn dismissed the case without prejudice, allowing the plaintiff to amend his complaint.

The school district argued that Negron’s CHRIA claim failed as a matter of law because the statute only applies to hiring, not firing, decisions.

Negron countered that legislative intent was to protect people with criminal records from being discriminated against in the entire context of their employment.

This summer, Yohn noted that there was little case law interpreting the scope of section 9125 of CHRIA, and ended up determining that the law only applies to hiring, not firing, decisions.

The judge, however, said Negron could make an argument in response to the district’s motion to dismiss that his employment was contingent upon the passing of a criminal background check, and because the district relied on criminal history in terminating Negron’s employment, he was never fully hired.

Those allegations were not in the original complaint, so Yohn gave Negron leave to file an amended civil action.

Negron then filed his amended complaint this past August, which supported his “probationary employee theory.”

The school district subsequently filed a motion to dismiss both the constitutional and CHRIA claims.

As for the latter, Yohn ruled that he is allowing the CHRIA claim to move forward at this juncture because “further development of the record through discovery is necessary.”

In his amended complaint, Negron argued that because he was hired subject to a background check that his termination, based on that background check, “potentially constitutes a hiring decision, drawing his claim within the scope of the CHRIA,” according to Yohn’s memorandum.

The district pointed to various documents that it claims contradict Negron’s allegation that he was hired subject to the results of the background check, but the judge wrote that he would not consider the background checks offered by the district at this stage of the litigation.

As for the constitutional claim, Negron argued that the district’s dismissal motion is barred because it failed to raise an objection or a defense during its initial dismissal motion.

Yohn agreed, writing that because the state constitutional claim in the lawsuit was available to the district when it filed its first motion to dismiss and because the plaintiff’s amended complaint didn’t alter any of the factual allegations relevant to the constitutional claim, the district is barred from raising its objection in its latest motion to dismiss.

But because Negron’s amended complaint supplements the factual allegations regarding the CHRIA claim, the school district is not barred from raising new defenses and objections to that claim, the judge continued.

Yohn wrote that since he is allowing the CHRIA claim to move forward, “judicial economy is not much harmed by permitting the Pennsylvania constitutional claim to survive until it is addressed in a proper motion …”

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