News Release: Christian Mail Carrier Discharged for Not Delivering Packages on Sunday Asks Federal Court for Judgment

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 17, 2020
For interview requests or questions, contact: Dan Bartkowiak
717-657-4990, dbart@indlawcenter.org

(LANCASTER, PA – February 17, 2020) On Friday, February 14, a United States Postal Service (USPS) mailman filed a Motion for Summary Judgement before a federal district judge asking the court to find that the USPS violated his rights when it failed to accommodate his religious beliefs regarding work on Sundays. 

Gerald Groff has been a mailman in Lancaster County for almost seven years. One Post Office supervisor called Mr. Groff his best employee. Another Post Office supervisor said that Mr. Groff had the best quality of work of anyone he had met in the USPS.

When he was hired, Sunday work was never required for Mr. Groff’s position.  Several years later, the USPS started parcel delivery on Sundays. For a time, the Post Office and Mr. Groff worked flexibly together to accommodate his religious convictions of not working on Sundays. Mr. Groff simply picked up holiday, evening, and Saturday hours others did not want to work. 

Later, USPS began enforcing a no-exceptions Sunday policy on Mr. Groff and needlessly disciplined him. This resulted in him being constructively discharged from the job he loved.

“In a free and respectful society, government should recognize those differences among us that make us great, rather than punishing those differences, particularly when those differences result from our sincerely held religious beliefs,” said David Crossett, a partner at the Cornerstone Law Firm, LLC, one of the attorneys representing Mr. Groff.

“Just as the Supreme Court recognized in a case involving the right of a Muslim worker to wear a head scarf at a clothing store, a government employer like the Post Office should reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs. The Post Office had plenty of other options for delivering Amazon packages on Sundays without making this employee violate his religious conscience,” said Randall Wenger, Chief Counsel of the Independence Law Center. “In a free society, government employers can and should do better at respecting their employees’ rights.”

The case, Groff v. Brennan, is filed before the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

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Trial Attorney in Snyder County, Pennsylvania

If you’ve been charged with a crime in Snyder County, Pennsylvania, it’s important that you have aggressive legal representation. Criminal charges can change your life, and having an attorney prepared to take you to trial, if necessary, is a vital part of a strong defense.

Why a Trial Lawyer is Important

Not every attorney or law firm is willing to take cases to trial. Some attorneys practice only in achieving plea deals or attempting to work out a case with a prosecutor. While there’s a time and a place for that art, there are also times when only a trial lawyer can help you with your case. At Cornerstone Law Firm, our criminal trial attorneys are able to help you with every phase of the process.

An attorney’s trial practice skills include giving effective opening and closing statements, excellent cross-examination, and wisdom about which witnesses to call on your behalf. A good trial lawyer will also know how to help you investigate your claim in advance of trial so that you are well prepared to present your case.

In Snyder County, individuals facing criminal charges often find that they are faced with the difficult choice of choosing between a plea deal they don’t like or facing a judge or jury at trial. Making this decision is easier when you have a trial attorney by your side to help you evaluate your chance.

Contact Cornerstone Law Firm

Not every attorney handles trial practice, so finding an attorney willing to take your case the distance is important. At Cornerstone Law Firm, we’re willing to be with you from opening statements until the jury verdict comes in, and to counsel you ever step of the way.

Call today to discuss your case with our trial attorneys and see if we can help you make your case.

Why You Shouldn’t Ignore a Writ of Summons

If you’ve been served with a Writ of Summons in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania or, in any other county in Pennsylvania for that matter, it’s extremely important that you do not ignore it. A Writ of Summons is the beginning of a lawsuit, and it takes care of one of the most difficult and important parts of the process—serving the lawsuit.

In other words, as a Defendant, you’re not going to get another notice about this lawsuit served through official means, such as a sheriff. From now on, everything you get is going to come through the mail. You don’t want to risk receiving this mail while you’re out of town, on vacation, or dealing with the other busy details of life that might keep you distracted.

Pennsylvania Summons
A Writ of Summons is an alternate form of original process in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

What to Do

When you’re served with a Writ of Summons, the first thing to do is to immediately take action to insist that the Plaintiff file a Complaint substantiating their right to a lawsuit. Their failure to do so can result in a complete dismissal of the charges.

What happens if you don’t know what the charges are based on? What happens if you don’t even know the person suing you? Surprisingly, this happens to many defendants.

Regardless, you should still take action to force a Complaint right away. This gives you the chance to gather evidence, prepare your defense, and hopefully push the Plaintiff into a position where the case can be settled or dismissed.

Take Next Steps

The Writ of Summons is part of Pennsylvania’s very complex Rules of Civil Procedure. Failure to abide by the Rules of Civil Procedure can result in very serious waivers of your rights. Contacting a civil litigation attorney is an important first step in the process. Litigation lawyers can help you figure out the rights steps to take in the process.

Contact us at the Cornerstone Law Firm today to discuss your Writ of Summons in Pennsylvania and to see how we can help you navigate the process.

“I’ve been Charged with a Crime in Union County. What Now?”

If you’ve been charged with a crime in Union County, Pennsylvania and you’re wondering what happens next in the process, you’ve come to the right place. The responsibility of filing charges in Union County, Pennsylvania falls to local police departments as well as the Pennsylvania State Police who have jurisdiction to file charges. But ultimately the responsibility of proceeding with those charges belongs to the District Attorney for Union County, Pete Johnson.

Here’s the process that you will encounter if you’ve been charged with a crime.

Preliminary Arraignment and Preliminary Hearing

union county court

We’ve written before about preliminary arraignments and preliminary hearings in criminal cases. Union County’s process is not different in that the preliminary arraignment and preliminary hearing are the defendant’s first opportunity to hear the charges against him or her and to hear the evidence that the Commonwealth has to prove the crime.

The bar for the Commonwealth to prove their case in a preliminary hearing is very low. The Commonwealth need only prove that they have probable cause for bringing the charges. If they’re able to prove that, then the charges move forward to more serious stages of criminal litigation.

Omnibus Pretrial Motion

Assuming the Commonwealth is able to meet its burden and move past the preliminary hearing, the next stage in the process is for the defendant if they wish to request discovery and file an omnibus pretrial motion. This motion allows the defendant to challenge the charges against them and to have them assessed at a much higher standard that is construed against the Commonwealth.

If the Commonwealth will be unable to meet its burden, the charges will be dismissed. Omnibus pretrial motions are a unique opportunity for criminal defendants to bring a motion to suppress evidence or to bring a habeas corpus motion to have the charges dismissed entirely.

Disposition and Trial

Most cases in Union County, Pennsylvania are resolved at a disposition hearing long before trial. This is an opportunity to reach a plea agreement with the Commonwealth, enter into a diversionary program such as ARD (accelerated rehabilitative disposition) or to reach some other arrangement. Disposition hearings are typically where an experienced attorney will have worked out the best deal possible for a client.

However, many criminal defendants don’t wish to plead guilty. They want to go forward to trial. This might be because the deal offered is not very good or because they believe that in principle they are right and shouldn’t have to agree to some sort of deal. In this case, it is absolutely vital to have an experienced criminal defense attorney who is able to go forward to trial and handle the charges by aggressively challenging the Commonwealth’s case.

Conclusion

At Cornerstone Law Firm, we help criminal defendants in Union County to defend against criminal charges by defending them at all stages in the litigation process, including at trial. Call us today to discuss your charges and to have a free consultation on what we can do for you.

Oley Valley Students Settle First Amendment Lawsuit

Every American has the right to free speech under the First Amendment. That’s why Cornerstone Law Firm is glad to announce that our clients, three students in the Oley Valley School District, have had their voices heard in their recently settled lawsuit.

We worked with the students to bring a lawsuit against Oley Valley School District for violating their First Amendment rights. The case has now settled for $5,000 for the students plus attorneys’ fees and expungement of the discipline resulting from their school board speech.

Oley Valley School District students (from left to right) Vinny Ferrizzi, Haley Hartline and Jordan Eck practicing their First Amendment rights

What Happened

Jordan Eck, Haley Hartline and Vinny Ferrizzi were disciplined for speaking at a school board meeting last March, where they expressed concerns about the way the drama program was being run. Within 24 hours of speaking to the school board, two of the students were suspended and removed from the school play, and less than two weeks later, the third was removed from school property in front of his classmates. Various excuses for this retaliation were offered throughout the lawsuit, but upon production of surveillance footage demonstrating the pretextual nature of these excuses, the parties finally agreed to settle.

The monetary settlement reimburses the students’ families for the expense of litigation and will be paid by the school district’s insurance carrier. The settlement also includes compensation for Jordan for the defamation of his character by the drama program director in a series of emails to the parents of other students in the drama program, as well as others in the community. All three students will receive compensation from the district’s insurance carrier for the violation of their rights to free speech.

What They Have to Say

The students expressed their relief that the case is over. “This is a victory for our First Amendment rights, and for the rights of other students to speak freely without fear of retribution,” said Eck after the settlement was reached.

“It shouldn’t have taken a federal lawsuit to force the School District to respect our right to speak,” said Hartline.

Ferrizzi agrees: “We wanted an apology, but it’s clear that this will have to do. This is vindication.”

“The First Amendment was written to protect us; but sometimes, we have to protect the First Amendment,” said Cornerstone Law Firm’s Joel Ready, the students’ attorney. “When government officials, however major or minor, seek to punish citizens for their speech, it is imperative that we stand up against that.”

Attorney Ready believes the lawsuit has bigger implications beyond these three students, and beyond Oley Valley:

“This case would have created a chilling effect on other students right to speak up, and I hope the message is loud and clear: as a student, you’re allowed to respectfully express your opinion to those in power, even if your opinion is unpopular.”

How it Started

The case began when Cornerstone Law Firm reached out to the School Board on behalf of the students, demanding that their discipline be expunged. The School Board refused reverse the punishments, necessitating rising costs, and ultimately, this settlement. Attorney Ready says he expects this case will have a positive impact on the School District:

“My clients hope this will cause the Oley Valley School Board to take definite steps to train their employees about protecting students’ rights. The Supreme Court says that students do not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gates. That is especially true when students speak to school board members—their elected representatives.”

Various messages of both support and opposition have been received on social media by the students, but Eck explains, “From the beginning, we understood that was part of it. We just want every student to be able to speak freely, just like we did.” Ready agrees.

“I’m proud of these three students,” he said. “They’ve shown courage in the community, sometimes in the face of misinformation intentionally spread about them. They’ve shown Oley Valley how important free speech really is.” The Court issued a “Rule 41 Order” last week, and the students and district signed a final agreement today.

Student Statement Posted on Social Media Today

The three students released posts on social media today. The post is as follows:

“We were each disciplined by OVSD last year after we spoke at a school board meeting and expressed concerns about the individual overseeing the drama program. While anyone has a right to agree or disagree with what we said, no one had a right to blast out an email to the community defaming Jordan, claiming he “posted something against another student” such that the “police were called in” to deal with him. No one had a right to suspend Jordan and Haley and remove them from the school show for their speeches that night, and no one had a right to have Vinny escorted off of school property in front of our classmates. These actions were hurtful, and were done to retaliate against us for speaking an unpopular opinion to our elected officials.

As of this week, our disciplinary records related to this incident will be expunged, Jordan will be retroactively restored to his role as drama club President, and we will receive $100,000, which will be paid by the school district’s insurance carrier—not by taxpayers. Most of this is merely to reimburse us the cost of bringing a federal suit. A nominal amount will pay for Jordan’s defamation claim, and all three of us will receive a small amount for the violation of our right to free speech.

The expense and stress of this lawsuit should have been unnecessary. Last March, Joel Ready, our attorney at Cornerstone Law Firm, sent a letter to the School District demanding that this matter be resolved by expunging discipline related to this incident, and that a small amount be paid to cover the attorneys’ fees we had incurred up till then. The School District preferred to fight about this instead, and finally was forced to settle on the eve of trial.

It’s really important to the three of us that all of our classmates hear this message loud and clear: no one can silence you just because you are a student. You’re a citizen of the United States, and when you speak as we did—calmly, respectfully, in the forum set up for public comment—the government and its officials do not have the right to retaliate against you.

We hope this case will give other students courage to speak up for themselves, and to speak against what they see as wrong. We’re grateful for those of you who have supported us along the way, and to those of you who haven’t, we hope you’ll keep all of this in consideration with an open mind and continue to dialogue with us. That’s what the First Amendment is all about.”

Contact Us

If you’re dealing with an infringement on your First Amendment rights, call us today to discuss your case.

What is Impeachment?

Continuing our “Cornerstone on the Constitution” series, we have received a number of requests to answer, “What is impeachment? How does it work? What are the results of the impeachment process?” Although impeachment is one of the hottest political topics in America right now, it is relatively misunderstood.

Impeachment is authorized in the Constitution for all officers of the government of the executive and judicial branches. While the House and Senate retain the power to expel their own members by a vote of their own house, the members of the executive and judicial branches have to be removed by the specific process of a majority vote in the House and two-thirds majority in the Senate. This is done to protect the independence of the executive and judiciary from the legislative branch.

Background

impeachment

It may be hard to believe, but at the founding of the country, the founding fathers were mostly concerned about the potential for abusive power in the legislative branch. They believed that Congress would attempt to arrogate all power to itself and rule the country without the input of the other two branches.

Indeed, Congress is the most powerful branch in the Constitutional frame of government. Congress can limit the president’s salary, define his authority over foreign affairs to a large degree, fire all of his staff and even auction off the White House if they so choose! Accordingly, it’s not surprising that Congress also retains the power to impeach the president if they believe that the president is abusing his power.

Cause for Impeachment

The Constitution allows impeachment of the president in the case of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Despite the best efforts of historians and legal scholars, this phrase remains largely undefined. It certainly seems to imply that an actual crime must have been committed, but the debates in the Constitutional Convention about the phrase suggest that it was meant to be a check on an abuse of political power even if it were not necessarily able to be defined as a crime.

The use of the word “high” in response to these crimes strongly supports the argument that these are meant to be more than “minor” crimes that are the subject of an indictment. Simply put, if the president is caught jay-walking, that is probably not going to be legitimate grounds for impeachment. 

However, the situation is somewhat complicated by the fact that the Supreme Court has ruled that federal courts may not interfere with the process of impeachment. Put more simply, they have determined that it is a “political question” that is left to the legislative branch and the legislative branch alone to determine. Accordingly, there is no right of appeal from the removal from impeachment, and it is permanent. 

Impeachment Myths

So, let’s tackle a couple of common myths about impeachment.

  1. First, impeachment is not removal from office. Think of impeachment as formal charges being brought against the president of the United States by the House. A group of “prosecutors” from the House are selected to bring the case against the president, and the Senate is the jury.

    The Chief Justice acts as the judge in any trial would act—ruling on the admissibility of evidence and keeping order in the Senate chamber. This is the only time that a judicial official is constitutionally mandated (or permitted) to preside over any proceeding in any other branch of the government.
  2. No, impeaching a President doesn’t mean he is ineligible to be President again. Conversely, it also doesn’t mean he can run for a third term. And impeachment does not remove the president—it only sets up his trial in the Senate. Our two previously-impeached presidents were not removed from office and served out their term in the White House.

No one can say for sure how this impeachment process will end up, but we hope this overview helps you understand this very important constitutional process!

Independent Contractor vs. Employee – Does it Matter?

If you have signed a contract of employment, you may have noticed a line that stated you are an “independent contractor” or an employee. Perhaps it’s a full paragraph dedicated to the topic, or maybe it’s simply assumed in the title of the agreement. When difficulties arise in an employment relationship, many people wonder, what is the significance of this determination of independent contractor vs. employee?

People are often surprised to learn that the mere designation of an employee as a “1099” employee (named for the IRS form on which independent contractors report their income), and even the filing of taxes in accordance with that designation, does not necessarily mean that the individual is actually an independent contractor rather than an employee.

As a general rule, employees have greater legal rights than independent contractors. They can bring suit under a range of federal and state laws for unpaid wages that entitle them to financial penalties and attorneys’ fees. On the other hand, contractors often have to resort to common law claims, such as breach of contract. In addition, some government departments will help employees recover unpaid wages, while contractors are largely on their own.

Here are several factors that a court will consider in determining whether someone is an independent contractor (a 1099) or an employee. None of these factors is conclusive, on its own but rather they are all considered together by a court, in addition to other factors:

1. Exclusive Employment

independent contractor

One of the most important factors in determining whether someone is an employee or an independent contractor is whether their employment is required to be exclusive with that employer.

For example: If you work at a doctor’s office and your employer requires you to sign an agreement that you will not work at any other medical facility, or in even more extreme cases, that you will not work at any other job without your employer’s permission, then this tends to suggest that you are an “employee.” On the other hand,

2. Right of Supervision

Independent contractors are generally an unsupervised bunch. A true independent contractor is someone who is hired to come into a job site, do a job, and then leave, even if it’s on a regular basis.

For example: The engineer who repairs machines at a shop may come in only as required for individual repairs. No one stands over his shoulder and tells him what to do, how long to be there, what hours to put in, or anything else like that. Rather, he is hired for specific jobs, brought in, and then he leaves.

The right to control someone’s work and to tell them what to do, when to be at the work site, when to leave, what to wear, and many other incidentals of employment, imply a direct employment relationship rather than that of an independent contractor. Once again, none of these factors are binding, but this is another consideration. 

3. How the Worker is Paid

Less important factors, such as payment, should also be considered. Are you paid on a salary, a commission, or are you paid by some other arrangement? Do you invoice the company or do they determine your pay for you? Each of these is an important factor in determining whether you’re an independent contractor or an employee.

4. Work in A Specialized Field

In some cases, statutory law controls whether you are an employee or an independent contractor. For example, due to the abuse of “independent contractor” status by employers, the legislature in Pennsylvania has passed an important statute governing whether construction workers are employees or independent contractors.

Many construction employers prefer to classify all of their employees as independent contractors on the idea that they then can avoid Worker’s Compensation payments. This has been determined to be unlawful in Pennsylvania, and the statute provides for a specific set of factors that must be considered. Thus, if you’re in construction or any other number of specialized and regulated fields, your status as an employee or independent contractor may depend on a more specialized analysis.

Conclusion

It is important to note that nothing in this article should be taken as legal advice. Every situation involving independent contractors and employees is unique and depends on more factors than we can list here. However, the important takeaway from this article is this: just because you’re classified as an independent contractor doesn’t mean that you actually are and vice versa. Properly setting up an employment arrangement from the start is important, and even after things have gone south between an employer and an employee, making these determinations can be important. 

Furthermore, if you find that there are statutory protections for you as an employee that are not being given you, your employer’s response that you’re an independent contractor is not necessarily the final word. Call the attorneys at the Cornerstone Law Firm today, and let’s discuss with you how we can clarify your existing relationship or protect you if your rights are being violated or how we can ensure a strong legal relationship with your workers.

What Do I Do with the Will When A Loved One Passes Away?

When you experience a death in the family, the details of wrapping up the loved one’s legal affairs can seem overwhelming. One of the first questions that many people ask after the death of a loved one is, “What do I do with the Will?”

“What do I do with the Will?”

The short answer to this question is that the original Will (not a copy) is vital to the administration of an estate. Once this original is located, it should be taken to an attorney for review, along with any information you have on your loved one’s finances and liabilities. The purpose of this visit to an estate administration lawyer is to determine whether probate is necessary.

In many cases, in order to administer an estate, the Will must be probated. This means that it needs to be filed with the Register of Wills under the auspices of the Orphan’s Court at the Court of Common Pleas in the County where the decedent was living at the time of death.

What is Probate?

Probate is the process of liquidating estate assets, paying estate debts and taxes, and ultimately ensuring that the beneficiaries and survivors incur no future liability on the money they receive from the estate.

But probate is not always necessary, and avoiding probate can save time and money. A good estate administration attorney can help you determine whether the Will should be probated or not. Accordingly, if someone in your family has passed away recently and you’re attempting to figure out what to do with their Will (or in the absence of a Will, what to do with their assets and liabilities) then contact the Cornerstone Law Firm. Our attorneys can help you to figure out what to do with the Will, whether to probate the estate, and how to maximize the value of the estate to its beneficiaries.

Contact us today for a free consultation on your estate so we can help you handle these details during your time of loss.

What is a “Plaintiff?”

In today’s post, we continue our series on litigation terminology, helping you to understand the various terms used when you’re involved in a lawsuit. Today’s question is, “What is a plaintiff?”

The word “plaintiff” is the title of the individual who initiates a lawsuit—someone who seeks to compel something from a Defendant via a court proceeding. They may be seeking money or “equitable” remedies, such as an injunction.

An over-simplified way of thinking about it is that he is opposite the defendant. Everyone knows what a defendant is—the one being sued. The plaintiff is the person bringing that lawsuit.

Another helpful way to understand this term is this: the existence of a “plaintiff” in a lawsuit is a tip that the matter is a Civil Suit rather than a Criminal one. In other words, no one is going to jail at the end of this trial. Rather, the litigation seeks a civil remedy of money or a court order determining a dispute between private parties. One final way of thinking about a plaintiff is that he is on the front side of the “v” in a lawsuit (Plaintiff v. Defendant).

We hope this explanation of the term plaintiff is helpful. If you have other questions related to your litigation, feel free to set up an appointment with the attorneys at the Cornerstone Law Firm for a free consultation about your case. Our litigation attorneys can explain the terminology, and more importantly, the strategy and rights you have in bringing or defending your case.

Injured on 222? We Can Help.

Pennsylvania Route 222, which runs through the heart of Berks County, is becoming not only the busiest but also the most dangerous road in the area. 222 has long been a source of economic growth to Berks County and to Reading, but in recent years, it has become more and more dangerous and has resulted in more and more accidents. If you’ve been injured on 222 in a car accident, the personal injury attorneys at the Cornerstone Law Firm can help you.

Pursuing Settlement

Car accidents can be a life-changing experience. Between the surgeries and rehabilitation required, these injuries demand an enormous amount of time and attention from the injured party. Other results of an accident, such as loss of earnings and chronic pain can create significant stress for the injured victim.

Having a personal injury attorney here in Berks County who understands your situation is important in dealing with the insurance company and any responsible party after the accident. The party responsible for your accident and the insurance companies involved—including your own insurance company in many cases—bear responsibility to ensure that you are made whole after the accident. This includes not only covering your medical bills and settling medical liens, but also putting together an appropriate settlement given the pain involved in your accident and the time you’ve lost at work and from the activities you love.

The process of pursuing settlement for your injuries doesn’t have to be as painful as a car accident. Frequently, cases can be resolved without the need of filing suit or going to trial. All the same, it’s important to have a lawyer who is able and willing to take your lawsuit to trial if necessary.

We can help.

If you or someone you know has been involved in a car accident on 222 or elsewhere in Berks County, Pennsylvania, call the personal injury lawyers at Cornerstone Law Firm for a free consultation. We don’t get paid until you get paid. Call us for a risk-free, no-obligation consultation about your case.