After Online Petition Provides Allegations of Teacher Misconduct, Grievant is Reinstated

As we all await the decisions from the Sixth Circuit on whether we’ll be required to implement vaccine and testing mandates for employees, it gives us an opportunity to catch up on some of the significant arbitration awards from the past year that may have slipped under your radar.

Allegations of misconduct can come from any number of sources.  In June 2020, the superintendent of the St. Anthony school district came across a internet petition discussing the culture “perpetuating sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior” at St. Anthony High School, and called for an investigation into several employees.  The grievant in St. Anthony Independent School District 282 and Michael Shafer was named in the comments of the petition.  Former students accused him of racism, homophobia, predatory behavior and physical abuse.

After students’ experiences with the grievant were e-mailed to the school district superintendent, the superintendent conducted an investigation into the allegations.  Following the investigation, the superintendent’s findings were submitted to the district’s school board, which unanimously resolved to discharge the grievant.

The most serious allegation against the grievant was that he had “inappropriate and unprofessional personal contact and interactions with students.”  Obviously this is a terminable offense for teachers.  However, the acts occurred between nine and 17 years before the investigation, and no students alleged to be involved in these interactions were interviewed as part of the investigation.

The grievant was also accused of spending time with students in his office with the door closed – for these allegations, the three alleged victims all denied any inappropriate sexual contact or touching.

Three additional incidents involving the grievant behaving in an angry manner with students, and in two of the cases, behaving violently with the students, were found to have occurred by Arbitrator Richard Beens.  However, Arbitrator Beens placed a lot of significance in the fact that one was never reported to administration, and that in one case, the student’s parents did not complain and the student “was not harmed in any way.”

There were also allegations of the grievant throwing things at students, including pencils, water bottles, erasers, and chairs.  Several of these incidents were acknowledged by the grievant, but the arbitrator rationalized the chair incident due to the fact a student had made an inappropriate comment about his wife prior to the chair being moved off a stage by the grievant.

Other incidents from years passed were alleged, but due to the time between when the incidents occurred and the date of the grievant’s termination, were given little consideration.  The arbitrator did find that when some of the conduct was initially reported to administration, little was done to remedy the situation in the moment.

Numerous witnesses were brought forward by the school district, and some of the conduct alleged was clearly inappropriate.  At the end of everything, Arbitrator Beens reduced the discipline from a discharge to a seven day suspension.

This was a very difficult decision for the school district.  Faced with clear allegations against someone entrusted with educating and protecting children, the employer had little choice but to move forward with the termination of the grievant.  However, with allegations aging up to 17 years, and lack of direct supervisor intervention at the time many of the behaviors occurred, it was an uphill battle for the employer to try and get the termination upheld.

When attempting to terminate an employee for misconduct, employers are usually held to high standards by arbitrators.  That means that the allegations, investigation, and presentation at arbitration must be in order.  If you, or your organization need assistance in the investigation of employee misconduct, or the arbitration of disciplinary grievances, contact Wiley Reber Law, for experience that works.