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JAMES L. THOMAS v. COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA (06/15/87)

decided: June 15, 1987.

JAMES L. THOMAS, JR., PETITIONER
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, PENNSYLVANIA HUMAN RELATIONS COMMISSION, RESPONDENT



Appeal from the Order of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission in case of James L. Thomas, Jr. v. Berks County Prison, County of Berks, No. E-24772D.

COUNSEL

Emily J. Leader, Stock and Leader, for petitioner.

Francine A. Ostrovsky, with her, Robert M. Miller, Jr., Assistant Chief Counsel, for respondent.

Robert R. Reber, with him, Kenneth E. Sands, Jr., for Berks County Board of Prison Inspectors, intervenor.

Judges Colins and Palladino, and Senior Judge Narick, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Senior Judge Narick. Judge Palladino concurs in the result only.

Author: Narick

[ 106 Pa. Commw. Page 599]

James L. Thomas, Jr. (Thomas) appeals from an order of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (Commission) dismissing his complaint against the Berks County Prison (Employer). In his complaint, Thomas alleged that the Employer discriminated by discharging him as a corrections officer on account of his race, black, in violation of Section 5(a) of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, Act of October 27, 1955, P.L. 744, as amended, 43 P.S. ยง 955 (Act). In support of his complaint before the hearing officer of the Commission, Thomas alleged that certain white officers who committed similar infractions were less severely disciplined. We affirm the Commission's order.

Thomas was employed by the Employer as a corrections officer on March 26, 1981. On November 9, 1982, approximately 19 months thereafter, the Employer conducted a disciplinary hearing on two citations issued to

[ 106 Pa. Commw. Page 600]

Thomas relating to excessive absenteeism and failure to attend training sessions. At the conclusion of the hearing, the Employer's Warden indicated to Thomas that, based on his entire record of citations and disciplines, including absenteeism, he was prepared to discharge Thomas but would give him an opportunity to resign. Thomas, at the hearing, accepted the offer but on November 16, advised the Warden he would not resign whereupon he was terminated.

On February 17, 1983, Thomas filed a complaint with the Commission. The Commission notified Thomas that probable cause existed to credit the allegations set forth in the complaint. The Commission then conducted a conciliation meeting, which was not successful. Thereafter, a hearing was held before the Commission's hearing examiner on July 17-18, 1985. The hearing examiner's findings, conclusions of law and opinion, which were adopted by the Commission, concluded that Thomas was discharged because of an accumulation of prior offenses and citations, including absenteeism, whereupon Thomas filed his petition for review with this Court.

In his appeal, Thomas asserts that the Employer 1) failed to refute his prima facie case; 2) failed to show that its reasons for terminating him were legitimate and non-discriminatory; and 3) failed to provide Thomas with an adequate opportunity to answer the charges against him other than those involving excessive absenteeism. The Commission and the Intervenor, Berks County Board of Prison Inspectors, contend that Thomas was terminated based on his record of prior citations and disciplines, including his absentee record and failure to attend training sessions.

Our scope of review is limited to a determination of whether constitutional rights were violated, an error of law was ...


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