Ely schools ordered to reinstate employee accused of sexually harassing students, teachers

A school maintenance worker who was fired for alleged sexual harassment of students and teachers must be reinstated, a state arbitrator has ruled. The employee was a maintenance worker and long-time union president for ISD 696 in Ely, Minnesota. The arbitration file does not identify the grievant by name and, as the Freedom Foundation reported last month, the Dayton administration recently curtailed public access to certain employee misconduct information and records. As such, we will simply refer to the fired employee as "Union President."

Here’s a brief summary of Union President’s apparently voluminous disciplinary record:

· Received warnings twice in early and late 2002 for inappropriately touching elementary and high school students, and was directed to review the district’s sexual harassment policy, which he declined to do;

· Received a two-day suspension (with pay) in April 2004 for sexual harassment after inappropriately touching another student;

· Accused by two teachers in 2013 of inappropriate touching and "sexually suggestive remarks," and accused by a third teacher of sexual harassment

Following ISD 696’s investigation, the school board "unanimously determined that [Union President] violated the District’s Policy when he inappropriately touched two female teachers and by his inappropriate sexually-based comments to the aforementioned two teachers as well as to a third teacher."

Union President was terminated in November 2013 following a district investigation. He and his union, AFSCME Council 65, contested the firing and went to arbitration.

AFSCME lawyers argued that the litany of allegations stem from a misunderstanding, explaining that Union President is simply "an overly friendly and talkative individual who some people do not know how to take." The union also blamed the victims, asking: "If they felt uncomfortable or were sexually harassed by the Grievant’s comments, why did they not immediately report them to District administration?"

Furthermore, the union blamed the school district for Union President’s failure to read the sexual harassment policy: "The Grievant had been asked to read the District’s Policy, which he did not do because he believed that his conduct was not of a sexual nature. After he was directed to read the Policy, there was never any follow-up by District administration to ensure that he read the Policy or any sexual harassment training to ensure that he had understood the Policy…"

And finally, AFSCME accused the school board of "anti-Union animus" and retribution for previous labor disputes with Union President.

In the end, the Bureau of Mediation Services decided that Union President was indeed guilty of repeatedly sexually harassing students and teachers, yet the arbitrator decided that termination was too severe a punishment, and reduced the discipline to a 90-day suspension without pay.

The state arbitrator ordered that Union President be reinstated to his former job, and that "reference to his termination…be expunged from his personnel file."

Union President can finally put this whole ugly ordeal behind him. Unfortunately, the targets of his alleged harassment are not as lucky.

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