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Horvath v. Pittsburgh Public Schools

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

January 8, 2014

James Horvath, Appellant
Pittsburgh Public Schools and/or Pittsburgh Board of Education and/or Pittsburgh Board of Public Education and/or The School District of Pittsburgh

Argued: November 12, 2013




James Horvath appeals from the September 4, 2012, order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County (trial court) that affirmed the adjudication of the Board of Education of the Pittsburgh Public Schools (Board). The Board determined that because Horvath rejected an "appropriate offer of reinstatement, " he lost his seniority rights for purposes of recall. We affirm.

On August 4, 2008, the School District of Pittsburgh (District), notified Horvath, a ten-year employee, that he was being furloughed from his position as an industrial arts/technology teacher. (Board's Findings of Fact, No. 2.) Horvath did not appeal the furlough or file a grievance. (Id., No. 3.)

In September 2008, Horvath was notified that a placeholder position, for which he was certified, was available at Taylor Allderdice High School (Allderdice), due to the medical leave of absence of Timothy Evagash. (Id., No. 5; Board's Decision at 5.) Horvath began working at Allderdice.

In October 2008, Marlene Harris, manager of recruiting and staffing for the District, contacted Horvath and offered him a permanent teaching position for which Horvath was certified. The position, which Harris characterized as "bona fide, " was at McNaugher School (McNaugher). (Board's Findings of Fact, No. 6.) Horvath declined the position. (Id., No. 7.) Harris asked for an email confirmation "so that we have this in writing that you understand what you are doing." (Board's Decision at 5.) Horvath replied: "I have decided to remain at . . . Allderdice. Mr. Tim Evagash related to me verbally that, because of unforeseen medical reasons, he physically cannot return to work." (Id.)

Harris contacted the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers (PFT), informing the PFT that Horvath declined the permanent position offered at McNaugher. (Board's Findings of Fact, No. 16.) Because Horvath refused the permanent position at McNaugher, the PFT and the District agreed that, in accordance with the collective bargaining agreement (CBA), the District was not required to offer Horvath another position. (Id.) The District and the PFT reached an agreement to place Horvath at the bottom of the seniority list. (Id.)

After the 2008-2009 school year, Horvath was notified that he was furloughed from his position at Allderdice because the position had been eliminated due to a decrease in enrollment. (Board's Findings of Fact, No. 8.) Horvath was also informed that he was not eligible to be reinstated because he had previously rejected an offer of permanent employment at McNaugher. (Id.)

On September 10, 2009, Horvath requested a hearing before the Board[1]in accordance with the Local Agency Law.[2] Horvath claimed his furlough was improper and not in accordance with the Public School Code of 1949 (School Code).[3]

At the hearing, Harris testified that when she offered Horvath the permanent position at McNaugher, Horvath declined, stating that he wanted to stay at Allderdice. Harris stated that the offer of employment was an "appropriate offer of reinstatement" as provided in Article 31, Section 9(a) of the CBA. Harris discussed the issue of seniority with Horvath and informed Horvath that if he rejected the offer at McNaugher he would lose his seniority rights, including those for recall. Harris testified that Horvath acknowledged that, if he refused to take the McNaugher position, the District would have no further obligation to offer him another position.

George Gensure, staff representative for the PFT, also testified that the offer of employment at McNaugher was an "appropriate offer of reinstatement." (Board's Decision at 6.)

Horvath testified that he did refuse the position at McNaugher. However, Horvath maintained that he did not understand all of the risks and consequences associated with his decision to remain at Allderdice. Moreover, Horvath claimed that Harris did not advise him of the loss of his seniority rights for recall.

The Board concluded that Horvath rejected the position at McNaugher because he believed that he would be able to remain in the position at Allderdice. Horvath acknowledged that Harris "might have used that term bona fide or some kind of - it's a permanent position at [McNaugher], I said that well I'm here, I know Mr. Evagash is not coming back, therefore, I will stay here." (Board's Decision at 7.) The Board concluded that Horvath anticipated that Evagash would be unable to return to Allderdice but did not anticipate that the position at Allderdice would be eliminated. "Horvath clearly understood that the assignment at Allderdice was not a permanent position . . . ." (Id., at 5.) The Board also noted that the PFT, a party to the CBA, agreed that in accordance with Article 31, Section 9(a) of the ...

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