(CN) – The Anchorage School District must face a lawsuit over negative comments it made about an alcoholic teacher who had to resign after failing to treat her addiction, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled.
Chana Boyko, a Goldenview Middle School teacher, had to sign a “last chance agreement” after she showed up to school late and drunk in fall 2004.
The school district applies this agreement uniformly to employees who report to work intoxicated.
A test of Boyko’s blood-alcohol content revealed that her BAC was 0.155 percent, about twice the state’s legal driving limit, when it was taken later that day at Providence Breakthrough, an addiction-treatment center 10 miles away from the school.
Soon after, however, Boyko discharged herself from the Providence Breakthrough program against medical advice. The center told Boyko’s employers that she had tested positive for alcohol, refused to attend the hospitalization-treatment program and committed other violations of the program.
Boyko restricted the school’s access to her treatment records and resigned after the school put her on administrative leave and scheduled a hearing to fire her.
When speaking to the district’s human resources director, Eric Tollefson, about her resignation, Boyko secretly recorded him saying: “You wouldn’t be eligible for – for rehire in this district, but you would certainly be eligible for – I mean, you wouldn’t have anything negative on your record if you were to apply somewhere else.”
Tollefson also told her: “No information would be given to anyone that would prevent you from being considered for a position.”
Boyko’s subsequent applications for other teaching jobs, however, proved unsuccessful.
The Mat-Su Borough School District said Anchorage had allegedly characterized Boyko’s qualifications and past performance in a negative light. The Alaska Military Youth Academy ultimately hired Boyko, even though Anchorage allegedly told the school that Boyko was not eligible for rehire and that it could not recommend her.
When Boyko sued her ex-employer for discrimination on the basis of disability, Superior Court Judge Peter A. Michalski dismissed the case on summary judgment.
Boyko fared better on appeal, however, with the Alaska Supreme Court reinstating three of her four claims.
The lone claim Boyko cannot pursue is disability discrimination since she admittedly failed to stay sober as required by the last-chance agreement.
“Because there are genuine issues of material fact whether the School District breached the resignation agreement and whether the School District waived its statutory immunity, it was error for the superior court to grant summary judgment on Boyko’s claims of breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing and interference with prospective contractual relations,” Chief Justice Walter L. Carpeneti wrote for the court.
Although the Anchorage School District did not promise to provide positive statements about Boyko, it promised not to make negative statements about her.
“Not providing details about the separation does not necessarily establish that the School District did not violate the resignation agreement,” the Jan. 27 opinion states. “Tollefsen’s promise in the resignation agreement was not limited to details about the separation: it covered ‘anything negative.’ The promise was also not limited to negative ‘information.’ Tollefsen told Boyko that she would not have ‘anything negative’ on her record and Boyko alleged that he told her that there would be no ‘negative or derogatory statements made’ about her. [Goldenview Principal Julie] Maker’s recommendation that the Military Youth Academy not hire Boyko and her assertion that she would not rehire Boyko, even if only opinions, are arguably also negative statements about Boyko. By producing these sworn statements, Boyko successfully raised a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether Maker’s comments violated the resignation agreement.”
The Superior Court already fined Boyko $15,064 for the previous judgment.
Boyko is represented by attorney Charles W. Coe, and the school district is represented by Howard Trickey and Cheryl Mandala with Jermain Dunnagan & Owens.