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Supreme Court upholds trial court’s ruling on professor’s dismissal

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Despite a professor’s claim that he was in a joyous mood when he interacted with a colleague and his actions were harmless, the Indiana Supreme Court upheld his dismissal from his tenured teaching position.

The Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s decision to grant summary judgment in favor of the University of Evansville in John Haegert v. University of Evansville, No. 82S01-1204-PL-235.

Margaret McMullan, then the English Department chair, filed a formal complaint against Haegert following an incident on Aug. 25, 2004. As she was interviewing a prospective student and the student’s parents in the department lounge, Haegert walked over to McMullan, called her “Sweetie” and stroked his fingers under her chin and along her neck. He had engaged in similar behavior before which had elicited complaints and investigations.   

After conducting a disciplinary review, the university dismissed Haegert. He then filed a complaint against the school, alleging multiple breaches of his employment contract. The trial court granted the university’s motion for summary judgment.

Subsequently, the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed, concluding the university failed to carry its burden of proof with respect to the sexual harassment complaint.

In granting transfer, the Supreme Court distilled the case down to two primary points of contention.

The first point focuses on Haegert’s conduct on Aug. 25, 2004, and whether it was harassment and, therefore, subject to dismissal and rescission of his contract. If so, the second point concerns whether the university followed the proper procedures as set forth in Haegert’s contract.

The Supreme Court noted the faculty manual makes clear that it is not only the intent behind the conduct that matters but also the effect of the conduct. The effect of Haegert’s verbal and physical conduct unreasonably interfered with McMullan’s work, creating an offensive office environment by making her uncomfortable and disrupting the work she was doing. Irrespective of his intent, the court ruled, his conduct nearly directly mirrors the faculty manual’s stated examples of what constitutes sexual harassment.

In addition, the Supreme Court found the university did comply with the provision of Haegert’s employment contract. Specifically, Haegert did receive notice of the complaint and the potential disciplinary action. He then had four separate opportunities before four distinct and neutral panels to tell his side of the story.

“Despite all this,” Justice Steven David wrote for the court, “he failed to persuade any individual, at any stage of the process. It is hard to imagine what additional process the University might have provided Haegert.”



 

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  1. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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