HARRISBURG — The Commonwealth Court has upheld an arbitrator’s decision to reduce the penalty of a jailer fired for faking a doctor’s note.
According to court documents, the Monroe County Correctional Facility had fired Tyrone Wright after he admitted to altering a 2008 doctor’s note in order to take a sick day in April 2017. Teamsters Local 773 challenged that discipline through arbitration, which in February 2018 resulted in a reduction in punishment to a 30-day suspension without pay or benefits.
After a trial court denied the jail’s petition for review and to vacate the award, the jail appealed the decision to the Commonwealth Court, which issued its opinion June 25. Judge Bonnie Leadbetter wrote the opinion, and judges Anne Covey and Christina Cannon concurred.
On appeal, the jail argued the reinstatement violated state public policy, which the panel said led it to consider if the arbitrator’s award undermines the jail’s discipline policy and cause the jail to breach its obligations to public duty.
Leadbetter wrote Wright “had limited prior discipline, had been an employee of MCCF for 13 years, had testified that he would not recommit the offense and had expressed remorse for his actions.” She further explained the trial court noted Wright’s actions were deliberate, but that he didn’t hold a position of public trust.
The union noted the legal issue is not whether White’s behavior violated public policy, but whether the arbitrator’s award would do so directly or cause the jail to breach obligations.
In affirming the arbitrator’s ruling, the panel said the suspension is the second-most serious sanction in the union’s collective bargaining agreement and “does not bespeak acceptance but a modulated approach to progressive discipline that is consistent with prior discipline imposed by MCCF for similar behavior.”
The panel also rejected the jail’s argument that White’s decision to keep quiet about his note for 2 1/2 months suggests he might engage in future improper conduct, such as smuggling contraband to inmates.
“Such speculation is without any basis in the particular circumstances of this case,” Leadbetter wrote.