Confidentiality of investigative process does not extend to results, PA court rules

October 21, 2013

Report reviewMay a public employer discipline an employee for disclosing the results of an internal investigation once the investigation is completed?

The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court recently tackled this interesting issue and ruled in favor of a school principal disciplined for disclosing the results of such an investigation.

(Westlaw users: Click here for more stories from the Pennsylvania Public Employee Reporter.) 

The appellate court reversed the decision of a lower court to uphold the principal’s three-day suspension for sending a one-word text to a colleague about her exoneration on charges of harassment and retaliation.

The Commonwealth Court rejected the school district’s claim that its directive to keep the investigation a “confidential process,” included the outcome.

The court explained that there was no basis for finding that the principal should have known that by texting the word “unfounded,” she violated a school district directive relating to her conduct during the investigation, or that the Public School Code mandated that targets of school investigations keep the outcome of the investigation a secret.

Karen Hertzler v. West Shore School District, 45 PPER 43 (Pa.Cmwlth Ct. 10/07/13)