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Office Of Administrative Hearings Upholds District’s Termination Of Employee 50+ Year Faculty Member
LCW Partner Eileen O’Hare-Anderson and Associate Savana V. Manglona successfully defended an appeal of discipline on behalf of a community college district in the termination of a tenured faculty member before the Office of Administrative Hearings.
In June 2020, the district terminated a tenured faculty member (Respondent) for immoral and unprofessional conduct, dishonesty, evident unfitness for service, and persistent violation of rules. Respondent had worked for the District since 1965.
In addition to an unsatisfactory performance evaluation, Respondent had a history of unprofessional conduct, including yelling at an instructional assistant in front of students, accusing his former dean of “hacking into” his email and shredding positive student evaluations, and asking a student whether the student had complained to the dean about Respondent. Respondent received a Letter of Counseling and a Letter of Reprimand in response to his unprofessional conduct. Students also complained to the dean about Respondent’s lectures because he showed disturbing and offensive images, including graphic images of lynched African Americans, without providing the necessary context surrounding those images. Throughout the last few years, Respondent also engaged in unprofessional communications with his supervisor, often referring to her as “weak” and “having no backbone.”
At the hearing, Respondent testified extensively about his performance review, denying his teaching was deficient in any way and denying that he needed to improve his teaching. Respondent also admitted he did not incorporate any changes to his teaching style after receiving his performance review recommendations, because he did not believe there was anything to change, and he did not agree with the recommendations.
In March 2020, when the shelter in place order went into effect, Respondent failed to communicate with his dean and students and essentially abandoned his classes and students. He later lied about not knowing how his classes were going forward, even though the District sent numerous emails about the requirement to move his classes online. Students were left confused and concerned, and other faculty members stepped in with little notice to take over Respondent’s classes during an already chaotic and unprecedented time. Respondent also lied when he told a campus police officer that he had permission to be on campus while the campus was closed to the public.
The administrative law judge (ALJ) found cause existed to terminate Respondent’s employment for unprofessional conduct, dishonesty, and evident unfitness for service and upheld the District’s decision to terminate him. As to the unprofessional conduct charge, the ALJ found Respondent’s unprofessional communications and behavior towards his dean on multiple occasions, his accusations against his former dean, his failure to contact the District about the status of his classes in March, as well as his confrontations with his instructional assistant and students, each rose to the level of unprofessional conduct. Respondent worked for the District for over fifty years and was aware of the expectation that he acts in a professional manner towards students and colleagues because the District continually reminded him to do so in a Letter of Counseling, Letter of Reprimand, and his dean’s verbal and written directives to him. The ALJ also found Respondent was dishonest when he told his students he did not have news about what was happening with online instruction for his class and when he told the campus police officer he had permission to be on campus. Respondent failed to offer any evidence to the contrary. Last, the ALJ applied the relevant Morrison factors, as discussed in Morrison v. State Board of Education (1969) 1 Cal.3d 214, 235, to determine whether Respondent displayed an evident unfitness for service and found that Respondent’s conduct taken as a whole, indicates a factual nexus between his conduct and unfitness for service. The District counseled Respondent about his unprofessional and unacceptable behavior towards his colleagues in the Letter of Counseling, Letter of Reprimand, and numerous emails from his dean, yet he refused to change his behavior or correct his conduct. Therefore, the District offered evidence sufficient to show that Respondent’s offensive conduct showed a defect in temperament, which supported a finding that he was clearly not fit for teaching.
This case illustrates the importance of documenting employee performance issues. LCW attorneys are available to assist districts through the entire faculty termination process, from drafting the statement of charges to representing the district at the hearing.