District May Be Liable for Firing Convicted Teacher

     (CN) - A teacher whose criminal convictions cost him a job despite his allegedly successful rehabilitation may have a case against the district, a federal judge ruled.
     The dispute stems from an employment application Luis Negron completed for the School District of Philadelphia in 2009.
     Negron claims that he was required to reveal if he had any prior criminal convictions but was allowed to "omit ... any convictions ... for which [he] successfully completed an accelerated rehabilitative disposition program [ARD]."
     Though Negron had been convicted of two unspecified charges in January 1999, he had successfully completed ARD for the convictions, and therefore did not list them on his application, the complaint states.
     But the district allegedly fired Negron in January 2011, claiming he had lied about his criminal history on his application, according to the complaint.
     Negron alleges that the district's reasoning was both false and pretextual in that his termination was truly motivated by his 12-year-old criminal record.
     The teacher's year-old lawsuit alleges violations of Pennsylvania's Constitution and Criminal History Record Information Act (CHRIA). Negron's claim for wrongful termination under state common law was later dismissed.
     Since the court found that CHRIA applies only to hiring decisions, Negron clarified in an amended complaint that he was not "permanently hired as a teacher," but as a "non-permanent employee" pending a background check.
     U.S. District Judge William Yohn Jr. refused to dismiss the claim on Jan. 15, finding that the CHRIA does apply to the amended complaint.
     "Construing it in 'the light most favorable to the plaintiff,' the amended complaint alleges that because Negron was hired subject to a background check, his subsequent termination, based on that background check, potentially constitutes a hiring decision, drawing his claim within the scope of the CHRIA," Yohn wrote.
     The court refused to consider the background checks offered by the school district to show that Negron was not hired subject to their results.
     "However, the temporary professional employee notification (which I can consider) clearly states that the 'contract is subject to the provisions of the Public School Code of 1949, and the amendments thereto,'" Yohn wrote (parentheses in original). "And the code includes provisions regarding how criminal records for both current and prospective employees may be used to determine eligibility for employment."
     Yohn disagreed that the district had failed to show that "non-tenured teachers" are considered "regular, fulltime employees" under the Public School Code once they are hired.
     "While a discussion of the code may be instructive, it does not indisputably undermine Negron's claim that his hiring subject to a background check and his termination based, at least in part, on that background check constitutes a hiring decision, drawing it within the scope of the CHRIA," Yohn wrote. "Further development of the record through discovery is necessary."
     Because the school district cannot rely on "previously available" objections, Negron's constitutional claim also survived, according to the ruling.