PITTSBURGH (AP) – A doctor who worked as a part-time professor at California University of Pennsylvania sued the state-owned school Thursday, saying he was illegally terminated because of time he missed fulfilling his service commitments to the Pennsylvania Army National Guard.
The lawsuit filed by Dr. Zackary Dawson in Washington County contends the university violated the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, which is meant to safeguard the civilian jobs of people called away for military service.
“A promise has been made to protect the jobs of those who have chosen to honorably serve in this country’s military and this lawsuit is intended to ensure that such promise is kept,” attorney Timothy O’Brien said on Dawson’s behalf.
University spokeswoman Christine Kindl said the school does not comment on litigation.
Dawson, a physical therapist and gerontologist from Canonsburg, began teaching part time at the school in January 2010 and was told in late 2012 he “would be considered for an expanded teaching role, including appointment to a full-time faculty position,” the lawsuit states. At a minimum, Dawson expected to be invited back to teach part time in January 2013, after receiving “exemplary” performance reviews, according to the lawsuit.
An October 2012 evaluation noted Dawson’s peer evaluations “are very positive” and said Dawson “developed an excellent relationship with students” and “does a great job of encouraging student participation,” according to the lawsuit.
Dawson, who was appointed a medical officer in the Guard, spent two weeks in September on Guard duty at Fort Indiantown Gap Military Reservation and then returned to teaching. On Nov. 4, Dawson received orders to attend a four-week officer training program at the U.S. Army Medical Department and School at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, beginning Nov. 7.
Dawson notified the school and contends he received a voice mail from professor Mary Hart, who directed the Gerontology Program at the university. The voice mail questioned whether Dawson could remain at the university given his military obligations and said she did not believe “we can risk going another semester like this.”
When Dawson returned from service Dec. 5, he asked to resume his teaching duties, but Hart told him she would finish teaching the semester for him. In the meantime, the university had given him a contract that he signed Dec. 6 to teach in the spring 2013 semester.
But on Jan. 16, before the spring semester began, Dawson received an email from professor Thomas West, chairman of the university’s Health Sciences Department, saying Dawson’s services weren’t needed and which, the lawsuit contends, “falsely suggested that the decision to terminate plaintiff Dawson’s employment was based on student complaints.”
Dawson contends that was a pretext to get rid of him for missing school because of his military service. He is seeking lost wages, benefits and other unspecified damages.
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