Sometimes for fun I like to read court opinions of employment law cases, because the darndest things happen in the workplace, and truth truly is stranger than fiction. Even though I’m not a lawyer and don’t understand all the finer points presented in these documents, I can get the gist, and that’s good enough for purposes of my entertainment.
Today I read the court’s opinion of Connelly v. Steel Valley School District.
The plaintiff, Patrick Connelly, a Pennsylvania teacher, filed a complaint against his employer, the Steel Valley School District, arguing that the district’s policy of determining new-hire compensation interfered with his right to travel interstate and is a violation of the Constitution.
What, you say?
Well, Steel Valley's new-hire salary policy credited teachers with in-state experience more generously than teachers with out-of-state experience. In 2006, when Connelly was hired, he had been teaching for nine years—in Maryland. So Steel Valley gave him credit for only one year.
As each year passed, one can only assume that Connelly got madder and madder thinking about his truncated wages, because in 2011 he filed suit, claiming that his employer’s policy had set him back $22,000.
The case was initially dismissed, with the court stating that the Fourteenth Amendment didn’t apply “because the classification alleged is based on location of teaching experience, not residency.”
Connelly appealed, hence the opinion I read today.
While evaluating the appeal, the court looked at “whether Steel Valley's experience-based classification penalized Connelly's fundamental right to be treated like other Pennsylvania citizens.”
It concluded that:
The court also looked at whether there were rational reasons for Steel Valley’s policy and concluded that there were.
So, as you can guess, this case was dismissed again.
If you’re weird like I am and want to read the entire opinion, you can do so here.
You have to give Connelly’s lawyers points for creative thinking. This is a hell of an argument. (At least this non-lawyer thinks it was pretty clever.) And, I feel kind of bad for Connelly. Teachers don’t make a ton of money, and they put up with a lot of junk, so I can sort of understand his (again presumed) irritation at making less money than another teacher with the same years of experience. Although the court upheld Steel Valley’s view that not all experience is created equal, Connelly clearly disagreed.
I’d love to know what hasn’t been written about this case. Did Connelly know about the policy when he accepted the position? Was he still working at the school when he filed his complaint? (Awkward.) Is he still working there? Is he relieved this case is finally over? Is he freaked out thinking he’ll never get another teaching job?
Forgetting about what the court decided for a moment, what do you think? Is Steel Valley’s policy fair? Is this suit further evidence that people will sue about anything? Or do you admire Connelly for standing up for himself?