decided: April 24, 1981.
RUTH E. VANISCAK, PETITIONER
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, STATE CIVIL SERVICE COMMISSION, RESPONDENT
Appeal from the Order of the State Civil Service Commission in case of State Civil Service Commission v. Ruth E. Vaniscak, Appeal No. 2813.
Larry B. Selkowitz, with him Ronald G. Lench, Widoff, Reager, Selkowitz & Adler, P.C., for petitioner.
Barbara G. Raup, Assistant Attorney General, for respondent.
President Judge Crumlish and Judges Mencer, Rogers, Blatt, Craig, MacPhail and Palladino. Judges Wilkinson, Jr. and Williams, Jr. did not participate. Opinion by Judge Blatt. Judge Wilkinson, Jr. did not participate in the decision in this case.
[ 59 Pa. Commw. Page 17]
The petitioner, Ruth E. Vaniscak, seeks review of a decision of the State Civil Service Commission (Commission) dismissing her from the classified service because of her political activity.
On March 6, 1978, while the petitioner was employed as a psychiatric nurse by the Department of Public Welfare, she filed a petition as a candidate for election to the Republican Committee for Cambria Township in Cambria County. Upon being informed that seeking such an office could jeopardize her civil service status, she argues that she "resigned" her candidacy as of March 20, 1978, and placed a public notice of her resignation in a local newspaper on April 26 and May 3. Her name, however, appeared on the primary election ballot.
[ 59 Pa. Commw. Page 18]
The Commission held a hearing, took evidence and thereafter concluded that the petitioner's act of filing as a candidate for committeewoman constituted a violation of the prohibition against political activity by employees in the classified service contained in Section 904 of the Civil Service Act (Act), Act of August 5, 1941, P.L. 752, as amended, 71 P.S. § 741.904, and she was removed from her civil service position pursuant to Section 906 of the Act, 71 P.S. § 741.906.
The petitioner argues that the circumstances of her situation*fn1 establish that her actions were not a violation of Section 904 of the Act, and did not conflict with the Act's aim of insulating civil service employees from political pressures. Wasniewski v. Civil Service Commission, 7 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 166, 299 A.2d 676 (1973). Alternatively she contends that her conduct was, at the worst, an unintentional, technical violation of the Act and that Sections 904 and 906 of the Act are unconstitutionally broad if they are interpreted as denying the Commission the discretion to impose a lighter discipline than removal in the case of a de minimis offense such as was involved here.
First, we cannot agree with the petitioner's interpretation of Section 904*fn2 of the Act as prohibiting
[ 59 Pa. Commw. Page 19]
only her active participation in the political arena. There can be no doubt that the petitioner participated in the circulation of this petition in that it was she who sought the nomination and that without the affixing of her signature no petition for candidacy could have been filed. See e.g., Farview State Hospital v. Urda, 23 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 607, 353 A.2d 61 (1976). Moreover, we believe that it would be absurd to say that a person who carried a petition for nomination door-to-door seeking signatures was more politically
[ 59 Pa. Commw. Page 20]
active than the potential candidate for whom the petition was circulated. We must, therefore, hold that there is substantial evidence to support the Commission's finding that the petitioner violated Section 904 of the Act.*fn3
As we have held in a companion case to this one, Cardamone v. State Civil Service Commission,*fn* Section 906 of the Act*fn4 leaves the Commission no discretion but to remove a civil service employee from the classified service once it is shown that he or she violated Section 904, so we must now determine whether or not such a mandatory penalty for the conduct here concerned infringes upon the petitioner's first amendment rights more than is necessary to meet the state's legitimate interest in protecting its civil service employees from political pressure.
Section 904 of the Act evidences a clear effort by the General Assembly to balance the Commonwealth's interests against the rights of the individual not only by proscribing political activity but also by expressly providing "[t]hat the rights of any individual as a citizen are not impaired hereby, and the prerogative to attend meetings, to hear or see any candidate or
[ 59 Pa. Commw. Page 21]
nominee, nor to express one's individual opinion, shall remain inviolate." 71 P.S. § 741.904. The petitioner's candidacy for the position of Republican committee-woman clearly goes beyond the personal expression permitted by the Act. Although her attempt to "resign" may demonstrate that she intended no violation of the Act, we must find that the state's interest in separating civil service employees from the political arena extends to the very act of instituting the circulation of such a petition for candidacy. Mandatory removal from the classified service under these facts may seem unfair to the petitioner, but, in the absence of a violation of constitutional rights, it is for the Legislature, not for this Court, to determine what penalties would most effectively fulfill the state's objectives.
We will, therefore, affirm the order of the Commission.
And Now, this 24th day of April, 1981, the order of the State Civil Service Commission in the above-captioned matter is affirmed.
Judge Wilkinson, Jr. did not participate in the decision in this case.