Public Employee Relations • Hiring/Firing

Lancaster Cty. v. Pennsylvania Labor Relations Bd., PICS Case No. 13-3411 (Pa.Commw. Dec. 30, 2013) McCullough, J. (38 pages).

Petitioner Lancaster County petitioned for review of a final order of the respondent Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board (PLRB) that dismissed the County’s exceptions to the hearing examiner’s decision and order concluding that the County violated the Public Employee Relations Act §§1201(a)(1) and (3) in terminating Tommy Epps and Adam Medina in retaliation for their union activities. The appellate court reversed the lower court.

Epps and Medina were employed at the County Youth Intervention Center; both parties were involved with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, District Council 89 to bring union coverage to the youth center employees. A co-worker, Evette Sepulveda, complained to her supervisor that food items were taken from her workplace mailbox without permission and provided a time-frame when the thefts occurred. The supervisor reviewed security footage and observed that Epps and Medina were involved in removing the food items. Following interviews, Epps and Medina admitted to taking the food although Epps believed the mailbox belonged to another employee to whom he had permission to take snacks and Medina indicated he believed he had permission from Sepulveda following a conversation they had a year prior.

After written reports by all parties, Epps and Medina were terminated under the County’s disciplinary policy which permitted immediate termination on grounds of theft rather than through the seven various steps of discipline. Medina and Epps appealed through the grievance and appeals procedure; appeals were denied and termination from the County upheld.

Medina and Epps brought their appeal to the hearing examiner who determined the County violated PERA §1201(a)(1) and (3) as the County was aware of the employees participation in the union, the County had knowledge of the protected union activity as Medina and Epps told their supervisors of their involvement, and the County was motivated by anti-union animus in discharging Medina and Epps. The County filed exceptions which were dismissed; the County appealed arguing the PLRB erred in concluding that substantial evidence existed to establish that the County knew of Medina’s and Epps’ union activities or that there was evidence of anti-union animus.

Upon review, the court reversed the PLRB finding the County’s exceptions had merit. The court held the PLRB erred in mechanically imputing knowledge onto the County of the pro-union activity by Medina and Epps merely because they told their immediate supervisor, whom had no involvement in the terminations. Further, the record failed to establish that the County had an anti-union animus as the record did not demonstrate that Medina and Epps were subjected to disparate treatment or that the timing of the terminations were reflective on when Medina and Epps informed their supervisors of their union involvement.