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Kansas Supreme Court Selected Opinion Summaries - April 22, 2010

Summaries and press releases are prepared by Ron Keefover, Office of Judicial Administration, Kansas Judicial Center, 301 West 10th, Topeka, KS 66612-1507 (785-296-2256), e-mail: keefover@kscourts.org.

The Supreme Court today filed decisions in the following cases today. The full text of these decisions may be found at www.kscourts.org.

Appeal No. No. 99,021: Fort Hays State University v. Fort Hays State University Chapter of the American Assn. of University Professors and Fort Hays State University Chapter of the American Association of University Professors v. Fort Hays State University and the Kansas Public Employee Relations Board

The Supreme Court today ruled the State Public Employee Relations Board (PERB), which is an administrative agency charged with enforcing state law in public employer-employee labor disputes, does not have authority under existing Kansas statutes to impose money damages for a public agency’s commission of statutorily-prohibited labor practices.  This is the first time PERB's power to order a party to pay money damages has been challenged before the Supreme Court.

Today’s decision came in a lawsuit brought by the Fort Hays State University chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) against the university on behalf a former FHSU professor, who was notified he would not be extended an employment offer for the 2001-2002 academic year. The professor, Frank Gaskill, was hired as an associate professor for the 2000-2001 academic year and was initially hired on tenure track.  Gaskill was awarded $142,013 in damages by a hearing officer in a grievance proceeding; however, on appeal the Public Employee Relations Board reduced that amount to $12,772. The money award was based on FHSU’s refusal to permit AAUP to represent Gaskill during the professor’s grievance proceedings.

The Supreme Court today, however, ruled there is no statutory authority for PERB to impose money damages for prohibited labor practices by public employers.  Writing for a unanimous Court, Justice Dan Biles said the administrative agency’s power to order a party to pay money damages must be clearly stated in the law by the legislature and could not simply be implied by the courts.

“If PERB or AAUP believes a more effective public policy requires the Board to have available to it the power to impose a monetary remedy, they must take their arguments to the legislature to change the statute,” Justice Biles wrote.

Biles noted in today’s decision that the university did not appeal various non-money remedial orders that were imposed by the Board for FHSU’s failure to permit the bargaining unit to represent Gaskill in the “informal stages” of the proceedings. 

Those remedies included an order that FHSU cease and desist from the prohibited practices, post a notice advising employees that FHSU would recognize AAUP’s right to represent bargaining unit members, post a note that advising all employees FHSU will not interfere with rights under the public employee relations act, and post a notice advising employees the university will not unilaterally change terms and conditions of employment without first meeting and conferring in good faith over those conditions.