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Karen Ray v. Brookville Area School District

March 28, 2011

KAREN RAY, APPELLANT
v.
BROOKVILLE AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mary Hannah Leavitt, Judge

Argued: November 9, 2010

BEFORE: HONORABLE BERNARD L. McGINLEY, Judge HONORABLE MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, Judge HONORABLE JOHNNY J. BUTLER, Judge

OPINION BY JUDGE LEAVITT

Karen Ray appeals an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Jefferson County (trial court) that quashed her appeal of an arbitration award. The trial court held that the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA)*fn1 vested exclusive authority in the Brookville Area Education Association to appeal an arbitration award. Discerning no error in the trial court's interpretation of the CBA, we affirm.

Ray was employed as an elementary school teacher by the Brookville Area School District for the 2008-2009 school year. On April 23, 2009, the School District superintendent advised Ray that she was under investigation for misusing School District technology and equipment. The investigation concluded in the School District finding that Ray had violated the policy on proper use of School District technology by using unprofessional language in emails; had pursued an unprofessional relationship with the Director of Technology on School District property; and had engaged in non-work related activities during her work day. On May 15, 2009, Ray was given a Loudermill hearing*fn2 and then suspended without pay.

On May 22, 2009, the Association filed a Level III grievance on behalf of Ray, asserting that she had been suspended without just cause. After the School Board ruled against Ray, the Association submitted the grievance to arbitration. Arbitration hearings were conducted on September 9, 11, and 14, 2009, at which Ray was represented by Association-provided counsel. On January 4, 2010, the arbitrator ruled in favor of the School District.

Ray requested the Association to appeal on her behalf, but it declined her request. Ray then engaged her own legal counsel, and on February 3, 2010, she appealed the arbitration award. The Association intervened in the appeal.

The School District filed a motion to quash Ray's appeal on the ground that she lacked standing under the CBA to appeal the arbitration award; it contended that only the Association was vested with that authority. The trial court agreed and granted the School District's motion to quash Ray's appeal. The trial court noted that although the CBA allowed Ray to choose her own counsel to represent her at a grievance, her choice had to be approved by the Association. Further, and more importantly, the court concluded that Ray's right to represent herself in a grievance proceeding did not include the right to decide whether to appeal the arbitration award. The CBA conferred that right solely upon the Association. Ray now appeals to this Court.*fn3

On appeal, Ray raises one issue. She contends that the trial court erred in its construction of the CBA, which gave her the explicit right to represent herself "at all stages of the grievance proceeding." An appeal of an arbitration award, Ray notes, is the final stage in a grievance proceeding. Ray concedes that the Association has the exclusive right to initiate arbitration but once it does so, she may appoint her own counsel to appeal the arbitration award. The School District and the Association respond that the Association's exclusive right to initiate arbitration proceedings necessarily includes the exclusive right to decide whether to appeal an arbitration award. They contend that Ray's right to represent herself in an appeal of an arbitration award is limited to the situation where the Association has agreed to the appeal.

We begin with a review of Article III of the CBA, entitled "Grievance Procedure." Section C, entitled "Procedure," identifies four grievance levels.

Article III, Section C states, in relevant part, as follows:

3. Level One

A professional employee with a grievance shall, within fifteen

(15) days after the alleged grievance, submit the same in writing to the principal. The principal shall advise the employee of his disposition, in writing, within ...


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