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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. Well, maybe it's because they are unelected, and, they have a tendency to strike down laws by elected officials from all over the country. When you have been taught that "Democracy" is something almost sacred, then, you will have a tendency to frown on such imperious conduct. Lawyers get acculturated in law school into thinking that this is the very essence of high minded government, but to people who are more heavily than King George ever did, they may not like it. Thanks for the information.

  2. I pd for a bankruptcy years ago with Mr Stiles and just this week received a garnishment from my pay! He never filed it even though he told me he would! Don't let this guy practice law ever again!!!

  3. Excellent initiative on the part of the AG. Thankfully someone takes action against predators taking advantage of people who have already been through the wringer. Well done!

  4. Conour will never turn these funds over to his defrauded clients. He tearfully told the court, and his daughters dutifully pledged in interviews, that his first priority is to repay every dime of the money he stole from his clients. Judge Young bought it, much to the chagrin of Conour’s victims. Why would Conour need the $2,262 anyway? Taxpayers are now supporting him, paying for his housing, utilities, food, healthcare, and clothing. If Conour puts the money anywhere but in the restitution fund, he’s proved, once again, what a con artist he continues to be and that he has never had any intention of repaying his clients. Judge Young will be proven wrong... again; Conour has no remorse and the Judge is one of the many conned.

  5. Pass Legislation to require guilty defendants to pay for the costs of lab work, etc as part of court costs...

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