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Robert L. McTiernan

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Co-chair, Labor & Employment Group

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Business Administrator Transferred to Position with a Substantial Reduction in Salary Was Not Entitled to a Hearing

Robert L. McTiernan, rmctiernan@tuckerlaw.com, (412) 594-5528

Medina v. Harrisburg School District, 273 A.3d 33 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2022)

A Business Administrator reassigned to a Program Grants Administrator position with a substantial reduction in salary was not entitled to a hearing under Section 1089(c) of the Pennsylvania School Code establishing procedures for removal of a Business Administrator. Nor was Section 1151 of the School Code requiring a hearing prior to demotion of a “professional employee” applicable because the Business Administrator position does not require professional certification.

Background

Kenneth Medina was hired by the Harrisburg School District to serve as the Business Administrator. After approximately five months, he was issued a written reprimand outlining inadequacies in his job performance and warning him that failure to improve would result in further action. A month later, the School District sent Medina a Loudermill Hearing Notice because of continuing problems with his job performance, including failure to keep the Superintendent informed of major issues and submission of inaccurate budget calculations to the Department of Education. Following the Loudermill Hearing, the administration informed Medina that he would be transferred to the position of Program Grants Administrator, which involved a substantial salary reduction.

Medina appealed the transfer to the Board of School Directors, which granted him a hearing pursuant to Section 1089 of the School Code. The School Board subsequently issued extensive findings indicating that the reassignment was justified due to Medina’s poor job performance and failure to improve despite repeated counseling efforts by the Superintendent. The Board also held that the decision to move Medina to a new position was a “reassignment” and did not “remove” him from his position. Therefore, a hearing under Section 1089 was not required. The Board went on to hold, however, that even if the hearing was required, the Administration was more than justified in its decision due to Medina’s poor job performance and failure to improve, which constituted neglect of duties and failure to follow directives. On appeal, the Common Pleas Court concluded a hearing was required by Section 1089 of the School Code, but sustained the School Board’s determination based on the Board’s findings.

Discussion

The Commonwealth Court affirmed the decision of the trial court, but held that Section 1089(c) allowing a school board to “remove a business administrator” after hearing was not applicable to the case because Medina’s reassignment to a position with less power, prestige and pay was a “demotion” not a removal. The Court reasoned that because Section 1089, which applies to business administrators, is analogous to Section 514 of the School Code, the word “removal” should be interpreted as having the same meaning, that is, a removal does not occur if there is no termination of employment. The Court held further that Section 1151 of the School Code, requiring that the “demotion” of a “professional employee” be subject to a School Board hearing, was not applicable to the Business Administrator. The Court explained that the term “professional employee” includes only employees who are “certificated”. Although a business administrator might be a supervisor, that position does not require certification as a professional employee, and the demotion language does not guarantee him a hearing. The language allowing supervisors to obtain a demotion hearing is restricted to supervisors of educational personnel, including those for whom certificates are issued “in a specific instructional or educational specialist area.”

Practical Advice

This ruling gives school districts broad authority to structure their administrative teams. A business administrator does not have the right to litigate a transfer to another position or reduction of compensation or duties. 1089(c) guarantees a right to hearing before the school board only if the business administrator is completely discharged from employment. Moreover, administrators, regardless of their level of compensation and responsibilities, are subject to transfer to positions with lower power, prestige and compensation without being entitled to a “demotion” hearing under Section 1151 of the School Code, unless they are educators who are required to be certificated by the Department of Education. As the Court noted “the sine quo non of professional employee status under the School Code is certification.” This ruling provides the public school districts with much greater flexibility, although having a sound basis for personnel decisions continues to be the best protection against other employment-related claims based on discrimination or other grounds.

For more information, contact Bob McTiernan at rmctiernan@tuckerlaw.com, (412) 594-5528.

December 07, 2022

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