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STEPHEN M. SACKS v. COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA (04/27/81)

decided: April 27, 1981.

STEPHEN M. SACKS, PETITIONER
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC WELFARE, RESPONDENT



Appeal from the Order of the State Civil Service Commission in case of Stephen M. Sacks, Appeal No. 2625.

COUNSEL

Stanley M. Shingles, for petitioner.

Fredric B. Weinstein, Assistant Attorney General, for respondent.

Judges Wilkinson, Jr., Blatt and Williams, Jr., sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Blatt. Judge Wilkinson, Jr. did not participate in the decision in this case.

Author: Blatt

[ 59 Pa. Commw. Page 31]

This is an appeal from a decision of the Civil Service Commission (Commission) which dismissed the appeal of Stephen M. Sacks (petitioner) from a ten-day suspension without pay from his position of welfare specialist with the Department of Public Welfare (DPW).

On October 4, 1978, the petitioner testified at a public hearing before the Health Systems Agency of Southeastern Pennsylvania, which is responsible for planning health care facilities and establishing guidelines on health care costs in southeastern Pennsylvania. The subject of his testimony was the Philadelphia Health Management Corporation (PHMC), which was established under a federal program to reduce health costs in the Philadelphia area and which is composed of representatives from organizations substantially affected by health services in Philadelphia, including the DPW. In his testimony, the petitioner stated that he was not speaking in a representative capacity for the DPW, but rather that he was speaking as an individual health care consumer. He did, however, identify himself as a public administrator employed by the DPW. He went on to testify that, as a result of a contract with the DPW for health screening of infants,

[ 59 Pa. Commw. Page 32]

    the PHMC had made a $760,000 "profit" which he characterized as "of questionable propriety; in other words, an apparent rip-off."*fn1

The DPW concluded that the petitioner's statements were made with reckless disregard for the truth and constituted insubordination. He was suspended for a ten-day period and this suspension was upheld by the Commission as being for "good cause" under Section 803 of the Civil Service Act, Act of August 5, 1941, P.L. 752, as amended, 71 P.S. ยง 741.803.

[ 59 Pa. Commw. Page 33]

It is true, of course, that the state has a greater interest in regulating the speech of its employees than it does in regulating the speech of the citizenry in general. Chalk Appeal, 441 Pa. 376, 272 A.2d 457 (1971). And the Supreme Court of the United States has set forth the following general standard governing the speech of public employees: "The problem in any case is to arrive at a balance between the interests of the . . . [employee], as a citizen, in commenting upon matters of public concern and the interest of the State, as an employer, in promoting the efficiency of the public services it performs through its employee." Pickering v. Board of Education, 391 U.S. 563, 568 (1971).

In considering the competing interests of governmental efficiency and of free expression, it was held in Pickering that if the public statements of a public employee relate to issues of legitimate public concern they are not cause for dismissal unless the employee made false statements knowing them to be false or the statements so closely ...


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