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Fired professor wins one, loses another appeal

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A tenured English professor at the University of Evansville who was fired after an inappropriate interaction with a fellow professor lost his appeal against his co-worker, but his case against the university will proceed.

John Haegert, who had informal complaints noted in his file from female students regarding inappropriate language and touching, approached Professor Margaret McMullan while she was interviewing a prospective student. Haegert said “Hi, sweetie” and touched McMullan’s face and neck in a tickling gesture while she was speaking with the prospective student’s family. She was offended by his conduct. Haegert claimed he was in a happy mood that day because he learned his wife was free of cancer.

A formal complaint was filed, and a review committee determined the behavior violated the university’s no-tolerance sexual harassment policy. Haegert was later fired because of that incident. Haegert appealed to the university board of trustees, which concurred with his termination.  He then filed a complaint against McMullan alleging defamation, tortious breach of his contract, and infliction of emotional distress. He also sued the university, claiming its decision to terminate his employment for violation of the sexual harassment policy was a breach of his tenure contract.

In two separate decisions, the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment for McMullan, but reversed summary judgment for the university with regards to Haegert’s complaint against the University of Evansville. In John Haegert v. Margaret McMullan, No. 82A04-1008-CT-470, the judges found that the specific statements Haegert believed were defamatory weren’t sufficiently identified by him in his complaint. Also, regarding statements contained in a file kept by McMullan, he failed to show how he was injured by the contents in that file regarding previous informal complaints made by students. Haegert’s termination was based only on the incident involving McMullan as the other complaints were never officially filed by the students. The COA also found that there wasn’t properly designated evidence in the record that McMullan intended to cause Haegert emotional distress.

In John Haegert v. University of Evansville, No. 82A01-1008-PL-369, the appellate court was divided, with the majority finding that the university didn’t satisfy the burden of proof that Haegert had committed sexual harassment in the form of a hostile work environment before terminating his employment.

The majority noted that the university has a zero-tolerance policy, with Judge James Kirsch writing, “One of the problems with the treatment of sexual harassment is the failure to distinguish between assault and trivial behavior. This problem is magnified by zero-tolerance polices such as the one here, where the consequence for any of a range of behaviors can result in the termination of one’s employment.”

The majority remanded for further proceedings, but Judge Nancy Vaidik dissented. She argued that the case is governed by the university’s zero-tolerance harassment and sexual harassment policy, and that Haegert knew a violation of his employment contract was cause for termination.
 

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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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