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OAH Upholds Faculty Member’s Termination For Creating A Hostile Educational Environment
LCW Partner Eileen O’Hare-Anderson and Associate Attorney Jenny Denny successfully represented a community college district in a tenured faculty member’s disciplinary appeal before the California Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH).
The District received numerous student complaints against the faculty member that alleged harassing and discriminatory classroom conduct and generally inappropriate behavior. The District repeatedly issued the faculty member written warnings from his deans and the College President. An administrative investigation in 2018 confirmed the faculty member continued to violate these directives and District policies. The District placed the faculty member on paid administrative leave in December 2018 pending the Board of Trustees’ final decision ending the faculty member’s employment in February 2019.
The faculty member appealed. The District and faculty member, representing himself, set the appeal for a 10-day hearing in February 2020 before the OAH.
The faculty member, who is a licensed attorney, issued an extreme number of special interrogatories, several motions to compel discovery, a motion for sanctions, a motion to dismiss, motions to strike, and even a motion for summary judgment.
The District presented testimony from 20 witnesses. Most of the faculty member’s witnesses were former students who had been enrolled in his classes and who were not offended by his conduct. In the end, the faculty member’s own testimony proved that he was unfit for service and had persistently violated the District’s policies and directives.
The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issued a 137-page ruling upholding the termination. The ALJ found a preponderance of the evidence established that the faculty member: told a story about a former student in which he described her attire and breast size; repeatedly used the word “tard” (a truncation of the word “retard”) to describe himself and students; referred to wives as “bitches;” and made a crude reference to political candidate performing sex acts. The ALJ found these comments cumulatively constituted hostile or offensive conduct in violation of District policy and procedure. The comments interfered with the learning or work activities of several students. Finally, the ALJ found that the First Amendment did not protect the faculty member’s speech because: the District had a greater interest in maintaining a hostile-free learning environment, and the comments did not relate to the substance of the faculty member’s lectures.
The ALJ concluded that the District’s decision to dismiss the faculty member was reasonable and supported by the evidence. The ALJ affirmed the decision to terminate.
OAH conducts hearings for local government entities as well as educational institutions. Some matters can only be appealed through the OAH appeal process, such as CalPERS disability retirement appeals. LCW attorneys have a wealth of experience in handling OAH appeals.