Friday, August 23, 2013

Appeals Court: Teacher Fired for Sex in School Actually had Immunity - COTW #157

This installment of Case of the Week features a teacher who was fired for having sex in school. The incidents invovled a co-worker (not students) and no students were present. I guess that makes it a little better, but still a terminable offense, right?

Not so fast. The sexcapades came to light in the course of an investigation into the co-worker striking, stalking, and sexually harassing the teacher. The school district's solicitor needed the teacher's testimony at an arbitration hearing against the co-worker.

In the teacher's appeal from her own termination decision, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court in DiBattista v. McKeesport Area School District (opinion here) noted:
At Co-worker’s arbitration hearing on March 8, 2005, upon learning that District intended to raise this issue during [the teacher's] testimony, [the teacher's] attorney questioned District solicitor, “But what about [the teacher]?” District’s solicitors responded, “[h]ow many times have I got to tell you? I’m not interested in [the teacher].” Moreover, District’s solicitors had already told [the teacher's] attorney at the meeting on March 4, 2005 that this “wasn’t a proceeding that was going to involve filing charges against [the teacher].”
Do you see where this is going?

Applying contract principles, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court held that the solicitor entered into an "implied agreement" for immunity in exchange for the teacher's testimony. Therefore, the Commonwealth Court reversed an earlier decision upholding the teacher's termination.

For more on this story, check out the Patriot-News: Commonwealth Court Voids Teacher Firing Over Sex in School.