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05/22/97 RINGGOLD SCHOOL DISTRICT v. RINGGOLD

May 22, 1997

RINGGOLD SCHOOL DISTRICT, A POLITICAL SUB-DIVISION OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, APPELLANT
v.
RINGGOLD EDUCATION ASSOCIATION, AN UNINCORPORATED ASSOCIATION



Appealed From No. G.D. 94-5383. Common Pleas Court of the County of Washington. Judge SENECA.

Before: Honorable Joseph T. Doyle, Judge, Honorable Bernard L. McGINLEY, Judge, Honorable Samuel L. Rodgers, Senior Judge. Opinion BY Judge Doyle. Judge Flaherty did not participate in the decision of this case.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Doyle

OPINION BY JUDGE DOYLE

FILED: May 22, 1997

This appeal concerns an Act 195 *fn1 grievance arbitration award, which the Court of Common Pleas of Washington County affirmed by an order entered on May 16, 1996. The sole issue for our review is whether the arbitrator lacked jurisdiction in this matter. We affirm.

The record reveals the following facts. Sharon Mucci Bosson was an elementary school teacher for the Ringgold School District for twenty-two years. On January 15, 1993, she opted for the School District's early retirement incentive program, which was adopted by the School Board on May 26, 1992. That program was offered to any employee who wished to retire and who had at least twenty years of service; it provided, inter alia, health benefits until age sixty-five or until the retiree became eligible for Medicare, and $10,000 dollars in severance pay. (Petitioner's Exhibit at No. 3; Reproduced Record (R.R.) at 138a.) At first, employees were to apply for the program no later than June 5, 1992, for retirement to be effective on June 30, 1992. However, the record indicates that a memo, dated August 27, 1992, and written by Dr. Charles E. Stacey, the Superintendent of Schools, was circulated to the faculty announcing that the School Board had extended the program "through the first semester of the 1992-93 school term." (Petitioner's Exhibit at No. 5; R.R. at 144a.)

On January 6, 1993, the Ringgold Education Association President, Jim Martell, sent a memo reminding his members that application for the early retirement program had to be made by January 19, 1993, the end of the first semester of the 1992-93 school term. (Respondent's Exhibit at No. 6; R.R. at 179a.)

Ms. Bosson sent a letter to the Superintendent dated January 15, 1993, in which she stated, in pertinent part, "Because of my upcoming marriage and subsequent relocation, I intend to take the early retirement incentive as offered by the Ringgold School District." (Petitioner's Exhibit at No. 9; R.R. at 145a.)

The minutes of the February 9, 1993, School Board meeting establish that the District accepted, by a unanimous vote, the resignation of Ms. Bosson, as well as that of several other teachers.

At its May 19, 1993 meeting, the School Board adopted the policy that only those employees who were fifty-five years of age or older may qualify for the early retirement program. The minutes of the meeting state that, although the School Board had accepted the retirement of several teachers by a motion made at the February 9th meeting, that motion did not include the granting of the early retirement incentive program to the retirees. The minutes also state that any employee who previously submitted a resignation which was accepted, but who now does not qualify for the program, "may rescind such resignation." The School Board then voted to grant early retirement benefits to all those whose resignation had been previously accepted, except for Ms. Bosson. *fn2 (Petitioner's Exhibit at No. 8; R.R. at 183a.)

Ms. Bosson received a letter, dated June 4, 1993, which was signed by each member of the School Board and stated, in pertinent part, "At its meeting on February 9, 1993, the Ringgold Board of School Directors approved a motion accepting your resignation as a professional employee of the school district, effective June 4, 1993." (Respondent's Exhibit at No. 9; R.R. at 180a.) The letter made no mention of the age limit qualification that was placed upon the early retirement program at the May 19th meeting, or of the fact that she was not granted the early retirement benefits at that meeting.

Thereafter, the School District informed the Ringgold Education Association (Association) that it did not intend to grant Ms. Bosson the benefits from the early retirement incentive program. Upon learning of the School District's intention, Ms. Bosson filed a grievance on June 6, 1993. However, in disregard of its announced position that Ms. Bosson would not be granted retirement benefits, in July 1993, the School District nevertheless paid Ms. Bosson her $10,000 dollar retirement benefit, which the District later demanded that she return, while her health care benefits were continued.

Ms. Bosson's grievance was submitted to binding arbitration. The arbitrator sustained the grievance after concluding that the School District would be acting in "bad faith" and would be denying Ms. Bosson her early retirement benefits "without just cause" if it ceased payment of her health benefits and continued to demand that she return the $10,000 dollar retirement incentive.

On appeal, the School District contends that the arbitrator lacked jurisdiction because the subject matter of the dispute is not contained within the express provisions of, or within the ...


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