A Pennsylvania Court ruled last week that a University Professor who was terminated after the discovery of a sexual offense 25 years in his past was fired unjustly and entitled to reinstatement and damages.
in 1990, before the plaintiff became a Lock Haven University professor, he was convicted (as a 19 year old) of a sexual offense against a juvenile. He was sentenced to 5 years.
According to the court records, after completing his sentence, which included sex offender therapy, “Grievant completed his undergraduate studies where he tutored students and then received a Ph.D. in Mathematics from Michigan State University where he directed the Mathematics Learning Center and supervised 110 graduate assistants. Grievant was hired by Lock Haven in 2004 as a professor in the Mathematics Department. In 2009, Grievant was granted tenure by Lock Haven and promoted to full professor based on his highly regarded teaching and scholarship.”[SIDE NOTE: see what can be accomplished if obstacles to re-entry are not placed in front of former offenders?]
Apparently, in 2004, when the Plaintiff applied to Lock Haven, the application asked if he had been convicted of a crime within the past 10 years or if he had any pending charges. He replied no (he had no pending charges and his conviction was more than 10 years old).
In 2014, amid the sex abuse panic, the university conducted background checks, from which they discovered the Professor’s conviction. Despite his tenure and stellar record at the university, they fired him.
During arbitration, the arbitrator found that the criteria to chose whether to hire someone is different from the criteria under which someone can be fired. Once hired and tenured, the university required “a concrete reason for separating him from employment.” Considering the professor’s proven track record, the fact that more than 25 years have elapsed since the offense, the fact that accommodations could be made to ensure he didn’t teach minors (such as having him teach graduate courses) and his “academic accomplishments since his release from prison… his unblemished record, excellent reviews and history of advancement at Lock Haven”, he should not have been terminated. The university fought the arbitrator’s award in court and lost.
The Court’s decision teaches us not just a lesson in employment law, but a lesson in forgiveness and possibilities, should individuals be given a second chance. The Opinion quotes a powerful gem of an opinion from the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, Secretary of Revenue v. John’s Vending Corp., which stated; “[t]o forever foreclose a permissible means of gainful employment because of an improvident act in the distant past completely loses sight of any concept of forgiveness for prior errant behavior and adds yet another stumbling block along the difficult road of rehabilitation.”