Teacher's Reinstatement After Marijuana Possession Upheld

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By Jon Steingart

June 13 — A teacher who was fired after being convicted of marijuana possession should be reinstated, a Pennsylvania appeals court ruled ( New Kensington-Arnold Sch. Dist. v. New Kensington Arnold Educ. Ass'n , 2016 BL 186969, Pa. Commw. Ct., No. 1243 C.D. 2015, 6/13/16 ).

A grievance arbitrator who ordered the reinstatement didn't exceed the authority granted by the collective bargaining agreement between the Pennsylvania State Education Association and the New Kensington-Arnold School District, Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt wrote June 13 for the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court.

The school board didn't follow state law governing procedures for terminating teachers because it fired Joseph Melnick without first giving him a hearing, the court said.

The ruling shows grievance procedures in a labor contract don't necessarily displace protections a teacher receives under civil service laws.

Inheritance From Uncle Includes Cannabis

Melnick said he received a box of belongings when his uncle died. Police found marijuana among the possessions when they visited his home during an unrelated investigation, Leavitt said.

Melnick was suspended the next day. He was terminated upon his conviction. The New Kensington-Arnold Education Association filed a grievance on his behalf.

Melnick elected to challenge his dismissal by grievance arbitration under the collective bargaining agreement rather than a hearing before the school board, Leavitt said.

The state's Public School Code says a teacher must receive a list of charges against him and an opportunity to be heard before he may be terminated. This requirement didn't disappear when Melnick elected arbitration, Leavitt said.

The code says the hearing requirement doesn't “supersede or preempt” any provisions in the collective bargaining agreement. “Lest there be any doubt,” the labor contract had a clause that specifically incorporated rights under the Public School Code, Leavitt said.

The Pennsylvania State Education Association represented the union. Sekula & McCrady represented the school district.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jon Steingart in Washington at jsteingart@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at jsteingart@bna.com