A local Philadelphia-area school district employed a teacher/union advocate for about 10 years until it ended his employment on the grounds that he was creating a hostile work environment for his fellow teachers and making lewd and suggestive statements to students.
Given that this is a unionized workplace, a grievance was filed, after which an arbitration was held. The testimony about what this teacher allegedly did would make your skin crawl. You can read it here, but you’ve been warned. Ultimately, the arbitrator found that just cause existed for a lengthy suspension, but not the termination that the District sought.
So, the District appealed. And, fortunately, the lower court saw fit to uphold the termination because the suspension violated the public policy against sexual harassment. That is, the arbitrator’s award, reinstating the teacher to the classroom despite the Arbitrator’s findings that he committed multiple and continuous acts of sexual harassment towards a co-teacher in front of students, “pose[d] an unacceptable risk of undermining the clear anti-sexual harassment policy of [the District] and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”
So, the union appealed.
It argued that “the Award imposing a 20-day suspension and allowing District to require [the teacher] to attend a reasonable sexual harassment training program is a reasonable and calculated response to the finding of ‘non-physical and unintentional sexual harassment and, therefore, does not undermine the public policy against sexual harassment.'”
Fortunately, the Commonwealth Court held firm wth this opinion. Specifically, it adopted the District’s position that “the Award undermines the public policy against sexual harassment and eviscerates its ability to enforce its obligations under that policy [, and] reinstating [the teacher] to the classroom poses an unacceptable risk and demonstrates a tolerance for sexual harassment.
So, score one for employers who take claims of sexual harassment seriously and use their autonomy to take action that is reasonably designed to end the harassment.
Even if that means zero tolerance.