By Dustin Luca
---- — ANDOVER — The state Employment Relations Board has ordered the School Committee to rehire fired Andover High School English teacher Jen Meagher on the grounds that an email she sent resulting in her termination was ultimately protected union activity.
The school board has 30 days to appeal the ruling. Should the ruling stand, the committee must post a notice announcing it will not retaliate against Meagher for “engaging in concerted, protected activities,” and that it won’t “interfere with, restrain and coerce any employees in the exercise of their rights guaranteed under the law.”
Central to the decision was an email sent by Meagher, a former AEA vice president and chairwoman of its Action Committee, to high school faculty last June. In the email, she urged them to abstain from voting on high school re-accreditation reports because they were “the only leverage we have left at the bargaining table.” The district terminated her in September for sending the email, which the union filed a grievance against in October on the grounds that sending the email was protected union activity.
School Committee Chairman Dennis Forgue said the committee is disappointed by the decision because it “failed to acknowledge that a teacher shouldn’t be permitted to place the re-accreditation process at risk to create pressure for collective bargaining demands.”
“Encouraging other teachers to abstain put at risk the loss or delay of the high school accreditation, which would have had a direct, negative impact on students and their choices after high school, which to the School Committee is intolerable,” Forgue said.
The decision came after a two-day hearing before the Employment Relations Board last month. The board agreed with the union, saying that the School Committee “discriminated against Meagher based on her union activity in violation of (state law).” The decision was filed in a 53-page ruling on Tuesday, July 2.
Meagher and Superintendent Marinel McGrath couldn’t be reached for comment yesterday.
Union president Kerry Costello said the AEA is happy with the outcome because the union “stood up for the rights of our members to engage in protected union activities. We prevailed.”
“A person’s right to engage in protected union activity is a sacrosanct for the union, and we stood behind a union member we felt was unjustly terminated for that activity,” Costello said.
Under the ruling, the School Committee must “immediately offer to reinstate Meagher to the teaching position she held at Andover High School.” The committee must also reimburse her “for all losses she suffered, if any, as a result of the School Committee’s unlawful action,” including lost pay with interest compounded quarterly.
Costello said Meagher intends to return to the classroom, though her prior position as action committee chairwoman for the union is up in the air.
“She has stated to myself and to others that she would be concentrating on resuming her teaching career initially,” Costello said. “What she might do beyond that is certainly her choice.”
The notice that the School Committee must post explains that the committee violated state law by retaliating against Meagher for engaging in protected union activities. It says the committee will immediately offer Megher her job back and won’t retaliate against her or coerce employees from engaging in union-protected activity.
The notice is a standard remedy among all Department of Labor Relations cases, according to Lauren Jones, director of communications for the department. It must be posted for 30 days “in all conspicuous places where members of the union’s bargaining unit usually congregate, or where notices are usually posted.”
Any appeals to the decision would go on to a judicial review in the state’s Appeals Court, according to the decision.
Forgue said the School Committee “is reviewing the decision and will assess all of the options and avenues for appellate review for the Commonwealth Employment Relations Board decision.”