By Kelly Spors
Schools occasionally need to lay off or fire a teacher. It could be a teacher who acted inappropriately with students or parents or in other ways simply wasn’t fit for the position. It could also be for financial reasons that have little to do with the teacher’s abilities or actions.
Whatever the reason, teacher terminations often result in a lawsuit. The teacher may feel singled out or targeted or may dispute whatever alleged actions sparked the termination. He or she may think the termination decision was handled unfairly and thus he or she deserves to keep the job.
School districts and administrators can reduce the odds of a lawsuit by adhering to strict processes and standards whenever deciding to terminate a teacher. But they should also carry the right insurance coverage that will help safeguard their finances and their reputation in case a teacher or other school employee sues.
Here’s a look at some of the most common types of lawsuits levied at schools and some real-life examples:
Race and Age Discrimination
Lawsuits often stem from allegations of discrimination and harassment based on age or race. A former high school English teacher in Maryland won a $350,000 jury award in 2014 after suing the Prince George's County school board. According to The Washington Post, the plaintiff claims he was fired after years of racial harassment by the school’s principal. The plaintiff told the jury that the principal made several racist remarks to him and told other staffers for years that she planned to fire him.
An elementary school tutor in northeast Ohio claims he was terminated by his rural school district because he posted something on his personal Facebook page critical of dairy farming practices that were offensive to local farmers. Widespread media coverage of the firing convinced the district to rehire him, but the tutor – along with the American Civil Liberties Union and the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals – still sued the district for unspecified damages and requested back pay, claiming the firing violated his First Amendment rights, according to the Akron Beacon Journal.
A former Indiana high school German teacher sued Middlebury Community Schools in federal court after he was fired. The Indiana school district contended that the teacher was fired for “insubordination, immorality and incompetence” and alleged that he had shown students a movie involving sadomasochism, according to The Elkhart Truth. The plaintiff’s lawsuit, however, claims that he was fired because he’s an atheist and that his civil rights were violated.
A former early childhood teacher in Newark, New Jersey was awarded $15 million by a jury in 2014 after filing a lawsuit claiming that her school district forced her to teach kindergartners while she was suffering from multiple sclerosis (MS). The plaintiff said the school district discriminated against her due to her health issues and forced her into early retirement by making her job progressively harder, even though they knew her MS was worsening. The jury awarded her $12 million in lost compensation and $3 million in punitive damages, according to NJ.com.
Insurance can help protect schools and their administrators from the financial and reputational risks that arise from these types of lawsuit. Professional liability coverage for educators, for example, can protect an educational institution from claims alleging “wrongful acts” committed by the school’s officials, representatives, employees or volunteers. Directors, officers and entity (D&O) liability coverage can protect individual school administrator’s assets from lawsuits arising out of their breach of duty, neglect, error, misstatement or omission while performing job duties.
An insurance agent can help assess your risks and find the right coverage tailored to your educational institution’s needs.
The information provided in these materials is intended to be general and advisory in nature. It shall not be considered legal advice. The Hartford does not warrant that the implementation of any view or recommendation contained herein will: (i) result in the elimination of any unsafe conditions at your business locations or with respect to your business operations; or (ii) will be an appropriate legal or business practice. The Hartford assumes no responsibility for the control or correction of hazards or legal compliance with respect to your business practices, and the views and recommendations contained herein shall not constitute our undertaking, on your behalf or for the benefit of others, to determine or warrant that your business premises, locations or operations are safe or healthful, or are in compliance with any law, rule or regulation. Readers seeking to resolve specific safety, legal or business issues or concerns related to the information provided in these materials should consult their safety consultant, attorney or business advisors. All information and representations herein are as of 4/20/15.