The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

October 18, 2013

Fired sex-jester jail guards may get jobs back

By Marcia Moore
The Daily Item

— MIDDLEBURG — The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania has ruled that two fired Snyder County Prison guards were wrongly terminated for sexual harassment and should be reinstated with back pay.

Heather Rohrbach and William Griffiths were fired in February 2012 for sexually harassing a female nurse working in the Selinsgrove lockup about a love note the nurse had received from an inmate.

Rohrbach, a seven-year jail employee, and Griffiths, a four-year worker, filed a grievance through the Teamsters Local 764 denying any improper conduct.

An arbitrator ruled in June 2012 that the conduct of the guards was not sexual harassment, but sexual banter that occurred only in the presence of prison workers on a single day in January 2012.

The county appealed to vacate the arbitrator’s award that reinstated the two guards with back pay.

Arguing before Clinton County Senior Judge Richard Saxton, who was appointed after Snyder County judges recused themselves from hearing the case, the county’s labor attorney said prison officials were required under Affirmative Action to discipline the two guards for engaging in sexual innuendo in the workplace.

The Teamsters said the county overstated the case.

Saxton ruled in favor of the county, vacating the arbitrator’s award and upholding the terminations of Rohrbach and Griffiths.

Trial court ruling reversed

The union appealed the decision to the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, which reversed the trial court’s ruling and upheld the arbitrator’s ruling.

“The critical issue here, therefore, is whether the conduct constitutes sexual harassment. It does not,” the 14-page opinion issued by the three-member panel said. “For conduct of nonsupervisor co-workers to constitute sexual harassment, it must be so severe or pervasive that it creates an abusive working environment. Simple teasing, off-hand comments and isolated incidents (unless extremely serious) do not constitute sexual harassment.”

The latest court opinion may not end put an end to the dispute.

Prison board chairman Malcolm Derk said he will discuss whether to pursue an appeal with fellow commissioners Joe Kantz and Peggy Chamberlain Roup and solicitor Robert Cravitz next week.

The county could decide to let the ruling stand and allow the former guards to return to their jobs or request the issue be reviewed again by the full nine-member panel of the Commonwealth Court or the state Supreme Court.

n Email comments to mmoore@dailyitem.com.