The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

News

April 21, 2014

State court: Prison guards wrongly terminated

SELINSGROVE — Two fired Snyder County Prison guards will be offered their jobs back after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld another court’s ruling that they were wrongly terminated two years ago for sexual harassment.

“We’re not pleased with the decision of the court, but we’ve exhausted our appeals,” prison board chairman Malcolm Derk said today.

The county is now working with the Teamsters Local 764 to reinstate Heather Rohrbach and William Griffiths who were fired in February 2012 for sexually harassing a female co-worker in the jail near Selinsgrove about a love note she had received from an inmate.

Rohrbach, who was employed at the jail for seven years, and Griffiths, a four-year employee, are now working at other jobs and it’s not clear whether they want to return to their positions at the jail.

Teamsters Secretary Ty Sees said he expects to meet with them this week.

Derk said the process of reinstating the pair, if they opt to return, and providing them back pay will take time. He said the amount of back pay owed to each will be determined by how much they have earned during the past two years at other jobs.

Rohrbach and Griffiths denied any improper conduct in February 2012 and filed a grievance against the county.  

An arbitrator determined in June 2012 that they did not engage in sexual harassment, but sexual banter that occurred only in the presence of prison workers on a single day in January 2012, and ordered the county to reinstate both with back pay.

The county appealed and won when Clinton County Senior Judge Richard Saxton vacated the arbitrator’s award and upheld their terminations.

This time the union filed an appeal. The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania ruled last fall that the guards’ conduct was not sexual harassment, but “simple teasing” and an isolated incident.

The county appealed the decision and last week, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied it.

Derk stands by the county’s decision to terminate the guards and appeal the non-favorable court decisions.

“We have a lot of good employees and we’re trying to run a facility the public can be proud of,” he said.  

Citing the recent terminations of correction officers accused of using a Taser on a nurse inside the jail as part of prank and following a second driving under the influence offence, Derk said it’s the county’s responsibility to maintain workplaces where employees engage in acceptable behavior.

“The public would demand that I no longer be a commissioner if I tased (Prothonotary) Teresa Berger or had a DUI. And, if I would use sexually-charged language, I’d be looking at serious problems,” he said.

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