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GASD employee sues district over demotion

Tuesday, March 26, 2013 - Updated: 4:29 PM

By HEATHER NELLIS

Recorder News Staff

FONDA -- A Greater Amsterdam School District employee last week sued the school district, alleging her position was abolished in retaliation after her union declined to agree to salary and benefit concessions in 2011.

The suit was filed by the Civil Service Employees Association on behalf of clerk typist Susan Pettica, the president of the district CSEA Clerical Unit. She claims her demotion in 2011 was "in bad faith, arbitrary and capricious," and that the school district has failed to restore her position though it was recommended by the Amsterdam Civil Service Commission.

She's seeking restoration of her position, and retroactive salary and benefits since her demotion.

The complaint says Pettica was hired in 1984, and was promoted to account clerk in 1986 before she was promoted to senior account clerk in 1997.

In February 2011, Pettica was the duly elected president of the clerical unit. That year, the suit says, Superintendent Thomas Perillo approached union representatives with a request for wage freezes and cuts in health insurance benefits related to a contract that wasn't set to expire until June 30, 2012.

The district faced a $2.5 million budget gap that resulted in the elimination of 62 positions and a widely-contested 16.5 percent tax levy increase for the 2011-12 budget.

On behalf of the unions, Labor Relations Specialist Michael Campon advised the district "that CSEA had a statewide policy of not opening up existing collective bargaining agreements in order to make concessions," the suit says, and on March 1, Pettica advised Perillo of the unit's decision to decline his request.

On April 7, Pettica met with Perillo and Data/Personnel Director Michele Downing her position would be eliminated, and that she would be demoted to account clerk, a position that pays less.

Pettica says she was told she was demoted because "she did not supervise any subordinate employees as required of a senior account clerk job description, and that the specific tasks she performed were not senior account clerk level work."

However, the civil service position's description doesn't require supervision as one of its responsibilities, and even after her demotion, Pettica continued to perform the same job duties and functions, the suit says.

Pettica later filed a request with the Amsterdam Civil Service Commission for review of the duties she was performing to determine whether her position was properly classified. On Nov. 26, 2012, the commission issued a formal opinion that Pettica's job duties fit that of her former position, and that her position be restored.

"[Pettica's] position was eliminated in an arbitrary and capricious manner because the district failed to investigate the duties .. and compare them to [the description]," the lawsuit alleges.

It later notes "the district's willful disregard for the [commission's] findings and recommendation clearly shows that the district had an ulterior motive for targeting [Pettica's] position."

Perillo on Monday said the suit is an ongoing issue that has been forwarded to counsel, whom is scheduled to have an upcoming meeting with the Board of Education for a review and update on the proceedings.

"It was part of our reductions [in 2011] when lots of school districts had their education funding reduced," he said of the issue. "We continue to deal with streamlining our budget."

     

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