Judge: Fired Northumberland County employee can have job, back pay
SUNBURY - A Northumberland County judge has upheld an arbitrator's ruling to reinstate a fired union county employee with back pay and seniority.
Judge Charles Saylor issued an order Nov. 15 denying a petition to vacate/modify an arbitration award granted to Dana Klokis, of Kulpmont, a former court cost and collection clerk in the prothonotary's office who was fired by Prothonotary Kathleen Strausser for insubordination Jan. 14, 2009.
Strausser filed the petition, claiming Klokis was rightfully discharged and that evidence of insubordination was not properly considered by the arbitrator.
By denying the petition, Saylor prevents another hearing in the drawn-out case in the Court of Common Pleas.
The order allows Klokis, who is currently employed but not with the county, to be reinstated with back pay and seniority if she desires. Von Treas, a staff representative for American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) District Council 86, said Klokis informed her that she is interested in regaining county employment.
Treas, who hasn't heard from any county officials since Saylor's order was issued, acknowledged that a complication exists in the case because Klokis' former position in the prothonotary's office no longer exists since court costs are now collected by the adult probation department.
She said if Klokis was hired in the adult probation department, she would be represented by the Teamsters union rather than AFSCME. If the court cost and collection clerk position is returned to the prothonotary's office, which recently-elected prothonotary Justin Dunkelberger has proposed, Klokis could be hired for that post and remain in the AFSCME union.
County human resources director Joseph Picarelli said he was unaware of Saylor's order and needed to review the case with the county's labor attorney Ben Pratt of York before rendering comment.
Attorney John Bielski, counsel for AFSCME District Council 86, said he was pleased with Saylor's order.
"I think it was the right conclusion based on the law," he said. "The county had a high standard and did not meet it."
Bielski said the county can appeal Saylor's ruling to Commonwealth Court within 30 days.
AFSCME filed a grievance a day after the termination on behalf of Klokis, claiming the firing violated terms of the collective bargaining agreement between the union and county. The case then proceeded to a hearing Aug. 24, 2010, before a labor arbitrator, who ruled Nov. 12, 2011, that Klokis should be reinstated to her former position with back pay and seniority.
In his ruling, arbitrator Lawrence Spilker said Klokis was denied essential elements of due process because she wasn't granted a meeting or hearing to address the allegations leveled against her. The arbitrator questioned the credibility of witnesses who provided testimony against Klokis and claimed they disliked her.
According to court documents, Spilker said the county's case was deficient in the elements of just cause and sustained the grievance.
Wiest appealed Spilker's ruling and Saylor entered an order vacating the arbitrator's award June 11, 2012. The union then appealed the judge's order to Commonwealth Court, which reversed Saylor's order and remanded the case back to the judge. Saylor was ordered to review the case again within the parameters set forth by Commonwealth Court.
During a Nov. 6 hearing before Saylor, Attorney Roger Wiest II of Sunbury, solicitor for the county prothonotary's office, argued that Saylor should conduct a hearing in the case, while Bielski said a hearing wasn't necessary because the arbitrator's ruling should be final.