State high court refuses to hear McKeesport Area schools appeal

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The state Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal filed by the McKeesport Area School District in the case of a former teacher who testified during a district judicial proceeding that she had sex with another teacher on school property.

The district was appealing an August 2013 decision by Commonwealth Court judges that said Cornell Intermediate School teacher Angela DiBattista’s testimony should not have been used by the district to terminate her employment because she had been promised immunity.

“The Supreme Court gets to decide what they want to hear and they said we are not hearing it,” said Philip Fabiano, Ms. DiBattista’s attorney.

But whether Ms. DiBattista will get her job back is uncertain since the Commonwealth Court opinion did not specifically call for the district to reinstate her.

The district’s attorney, Carl Beard, said he could not comment because he had not yet conferred with district officials about the Supreme Court action, which was made public March 13.

Mr. Fabiano said he was not certain at this point about Ms. DiBattista’s future with the McKeesport Area district. But he said he believes the ruling means she is entitled to back pay and benefits.

“The Commonwealth Court decision was based on the fact that a promise was made to her and then it was broken. The promise was, ‘If you testify, we won’t terminate you,”’ Mr. Fabiano said.

Ms. DiBattista was suspended by the McKeesport Area school board in January 2006 and fired in February 2011 on an immorality charge filed against her for having sex in district classrooms with a fellow teacher.

She and her attorneys have argued that she was granted immunity from the district’s solicitors when she admitted in March 2005 to having sex with colleague Patrick Collings in classrooms, though not during school hours or when children were present, but that the district later used that information to charge her with immorality, suspend her without pay and then terminate her.

But the district has argued that no such immunity was ever granted.

Ms. DiBattista admitted to the sexual relationship during an arbitration hearing against Mr. Collins, who stood accused of sexually harassing, assaulting, stalking and terrorizing Ms. DiBattista. An arbitrator found insufficient evidence of those charges against Mr. Collins.

Mr. Collins, who had been a teacher for 33 years, eventually retired with a $58,000 settlement. Ms. DiBattista was also offered the chance to retire but rejected the offer because she had 12 years tenure at the time and did not qualify for a full pension.

Since her dismissal from the district, Ms. DiBattista has been working as a dog groomer.

“She is hopeful she can stop grooming those dogs and get back to the kids,” Mr. Fabiano said.

Mary Niederberger:;412-263-1590.

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