Share This Page

School employee with criminal record to keep his job

| Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012, 6:18 p.m.

An Allegheny Intermediate Unit employee convicted of voluntary manslaughter nearly 30 years ago will remain on the job after a state appeals court sided with him over the group's attempt to fire him.

Commonwealth Court ruled on due process grounds in favor of Arthur Johnson of the North Side, who works as a “fatherhood facilitator” for the AIU.

The AIU moved to terminate Johnson this year under a revised state law that imposes a lifetime ban on employment in school districts for people with certain criminal convictions to have direct contact with children.

The judges said the AIU failed to show that firing Johnson served a legitimate governmental purpose.

The ban, Judge Dan Pellegrini wrote for the seven-judge panel, “has no temporal proximity to Johnson's present ability to perform the duties of his position, and it does not bear a real and substantial relationship to the commonwealth's interest in protecting children, it is unreasonable, unduly oppressive and patently beyond the necessities of the offense.”

An Allegheny County judge ruled in favor of Johnson, and the state Department of Education appealed. A state agency spokesman declined comment, saying the decision was under review.

Mary Jo Miller, staff attorney for the Pennsylvania State Education Association who represented Johnson, welcomed the ruling and said the AIU knew of Johnson's conviction when it hired him as a van driver in 2001 and that he has been a model employee.

“There's just something not right about telling someone he's done everything he's supposed to do after a terrible and tragic mistake ... but now we've changed our minds, and now we're going to take your job away,” Miller said. “And you are forever banned from earning a living in this area.”

A five-year ban on school employment for those with homicide convictions became a lifetime ban under a 2011 state law, Pellegrini wrote. The Department of Education told school administrators they could face penalties if they did not act against employees with criminal records that disqualify them from employment.

The Education Department had argued that the ban was justified on the grounds of student safety.

Miller said other similar cases are winding their way through the court system.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.