John R. White, Campbell and White, Adams County Sol., Gettysburg, for petitioner.
Barbara Sumple-Sullivan, New Cumberland, for respondent.
Doyle and Smith (p.), JJ., and Kalish, Senior Judge. Smith, J., dissents.
[ 126 Pa. Commw. Page 164]
This is an appeal by the Adams County Children and Youth Services (Appointing Authority) from an order of the State Civil Service Commission (Commission) which reversed
[ 126 Pa. Commw. Page 165]
the determination of the Appointing Authority to remove Sandra L. Ruppert from her position as a Caseworker, probationary status, with the Appointing Authority. The Commission's order directed that Ruppert be reinstated to her position with full back pay.
The Commission found that by letter dated March 3, 1988, Ruppert was removed from her position on a charge of failure to disclose or act upon information regarding an improper caseworker-client relationship. In January of 1987 an allegation of child abuse against the father of the involved child was presented by the child's mother to the appointing authority. Responsibility to investigate this allegation was initially assigned to Ruppert, but at the request of a co-worker, (Karen) and with the approval of Ruppert's immediate supervisor, the case was reassigned to Karen.*fn1 The Commission specifically found that reports finalizing Karen's investigation were submitted by Karen in February of 1987 and that the case was closed in March of 1987 with the conclusion that the allegations of abuse were unfounded. One year later, on March 2, 1988, the mother of the subject child again contacted the Appointing Authority and was interviewed by Ruppert. The mother alleged abuse by the child's father and asserted that no action had been taken on the prior allegations because of a "friendship" between Karen and the father. On the same day, after this interview had terminated, Ruppert advised her superiors that there had been, "sometime during 1987," "some relationship" between Karen and the father. All of the information pertaining to the relationship between Karen and the father was provided to the Appointing Authority by Ruppert. The Appointing Authority did not contact Karen, who had left the agency.
[ 126 Pa. Commw. Page 166]
The Appointing Authority based its removal upon its belief that Ruppert, on March 2, 1988, had advised the Appointing Authority that (1) the relationship between Karen and the father took place during Karen's 1987 investigation and (2) that Ruppert knew of the relationship during the 1987 investigation but only revealed it to the Appointing Authority after the March 2, 1988 complaint from the mother was filed. The Appointing Authority thus posits that Ruppert's knowledge of a client-caseworker relationship during an ongoing investigation and failure to report it justified her removal from her position.
Ruppert maintains that the Appointing Authority misinterpreted or misunderstood her statements. She contends, inter alia, that the relationship developed after the investigation was finalized and that any relationship between Karen and the father which may have occurred, was subsequent to the submission of Karen's final report and thus is irrelevant. She further contends that her second level supervisor relied upon her March 2 statements but misunderstood them and refused to accept her later attempts to clarify those statements.
The Commission specifically observed that at the hearing Ruppert testified that to the best of her knowledge the relationship between Karen and the father began after the close of the 1987 investigation. We observe that this evidence is supported by Ruppert's testimony on the record. See N.T. 43-45. The Commission also noted that under the Appointing Authority's own position while a caseworker-client relationship would be viewed as improper during the course of an investigation, such relationship if it began subsequent to the investigation's closure would be unrelated to the caseworker's employment and, hence, permissible. Therefore, if Karen's relationship with the father occurred after her investigation was closed even if Ruppert knew of the relationship her failure ...