Pennsylvania Comes Down Hard on Accused Teacher

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Pennsylvania Comes Down Hard on Accused Teacher
Bucks County, PA – The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court has ruled that an arbitration award that would have allowed a male teacher to be reinstated after being accused of making repeated sexually explicit comments toward a female co-worker violated the public policy against sexual harassment and cannot be enforced.
On September 18, 2017, the panel in Neshaminy School District v. Neshaminy Federation of Teachers found that the teacher’s 20-day suspension was too light and may send the wrong message to students. Specifically, the panel decided that not dismissing him from his job as a ninth-grade teacher posed an unacceptable risk in the classroom and demonstrated a tolerance for sexual harassment.
The male teacher involved in the action, Jared Katz, was a teacher at Neshaminy School District a large suburban public school district located in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
Initially, the arbitrator issued an award that reinstated Katz after a 20-day suspension and authorized the school district to require him to undergo reasonable sexual harassment training. The school district filed a petition to vacate the award because of the “unacceptable risk of undermining the clear anti-sexual harassment policy” of the district and in Pennsylvania.
The court agreed with the school in the end. Judge Renee Cohn Jubelirer wrote Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court’s 5-2 majority opinion stating, “There is not a ‘reasonable, calibrated, defensible relationship between’ Katz’s continuous, hostile, offensive and deleterious conduct ‘violating dominant public policy and the arbitrator’s response’ to reinstate Katz to the classroom, even with the condition that the district could require him to attend reasonable sexual harassment training after his reinstatement.”
In determining whether the matter fell under the public policy, the court factored whether the nature of the conduct was identified (“pervasive sexual harassment”), whether the conduct implicated a “well-defined and dominant public policy,” and whether the award posed an unacceptable risk of undermining the public policy.
Another teacher in the Neshaminy School District provided testimony as a witness of the Katz’s sexual harassment, explaining that Katz directed sarcastic and sexually explicit comments toward the woman “all day, every day.” Such comments included inviting her to sit in his lap, telling her it took all his self-control not to kiss her and responding to a sexually inappropriate comment when she asked him to stop. Moreover, the witness stated that students were starting to comment about a possible relationship between the two teachers.
The court believed that such sexual harassment and comments could not only distract students from their education but could also warp their understanding of permissible conduct and make them believe Katz’s “continuous” harassment was normal.
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