Court of Appeals Overrules Trial Court in Employee Termination Matter

Court of Appeals Overrules Trial Court in Employee Termination Matter

Matthews v. Springfield-Clark CTC Bd. of Edn., 2023-Ohio-1304.

Springfield Clark CTC terminated a custodial supervisor for a variety of reasons, including, going into his supervisor’s office and reviewing, copying, and removing documents, all of which were supported by video.  The employee had been the subject of prior discipline and had been placed on an improvement plan which was never started.

During the termination process, the employee was given a pre-disciplinary hearing where he was provided with details of all of the allegations.  He was also given an opportunity to provide evidence in his defense.  Following this meeting, the Superintendent recommended termination, and a hearing was held before the Board of Education from which a transcript was created.  The employee did not call any witnesses.   Following the hearing, the Board of Education terminated the employee.

The employee appealed to the Common Pleas Court which overruled the termination.  As the basis for this reversal, the trial court made several findings.  First, the trial court ruled that an employee had a “presumption of innocence” and that the process violated “fundamental fairness” citing that it was the employer’s burden of proving the misconduct.  In support, the trial court cited a passage from the letter from the Superintendent that stated “because the allegation of misconduct has not been disproven” and thus it is “determined to be an act of malfeasance”. 

The trial court also took issue with the fact that the employee’s supervisor did not testify at the hearing, denying the employee his fundamental right of cross-examination.

Lastly, the trial court gave little to no deference to the Board of Education’s findings and decision, despite the wealth of evidence introduced at the hearing regarding past discipline, the video evidence provided, the Superintendent’s testimony, and the lack of credible evidence in the employee’s defense.  Of note, the trial court stated that the Superintendent’s testimony was unreliable hearsay, despite accepting the employee’s introduction of unsupported hearsay testimony. The Board appealed the trial court’s decision.

The Court of Appeals found that all required due process was provided.  He was given a pre-disciplinary hearing where he was presented with all allegations against him.  He was given the chance to call witnesses and to be represented by an attorney.  The Court of Appeals further stated that the standard applied by the trial court of a presumption of innocence was in error, stating the only burden on an employer is to provide evidence sufficient to justify termination.  The trial court’s characterization of the language in the Superintendent’s letter was described as flawed reasoning.

Regarding the lack of testimony and ability to cross-examine, the Court of Appeals specifically stated that cross-examination is not an absolute requirement for due process.

As to the lack of deference, after reviewing the record, the Court of Appeals found the trial court gave no deference to the Board of Education’s credibility decisions and resolution of evidentiary conflicts, instead expressing the court’s view of what the discipline should have been.  Thus, the Court of Appeals found the trial court erred and reversed the decision.

What this means to your district:  It is absolutely pertinent that the appropriate process is followed.  In this instance, that adherence allowed the District to obtain a positive result even after receiving a decision from the trial court that relied on “flawed reasoning.”






































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































Ennis Britton is Pleased to Announce Pete Japikse has Joined the Ennis Britton Consulting Group

Ennis Britton is Pleased to Announce Pete Japikse has Joined the Ennis Britton Consulting Group

Ennis Britton is pleased to announce Pete Japikse has joined The Ennis Britton Consulting Group, offering transportation consulting services to the Firm’s clients. Pete is available for transportation consulting assistance including but not limited to T-1 and T-2 training and audit reviews, routing consolidation studies, post-accident procedures, safety issues and help with any of the many technical issues involved in school transportation.

Pete brings over forty years of experience in school transportation services to Ennis Britton and its clients. He has served as a respected resource for Ohio’s public schools, legislators, and government officials in a number of key roles. Most recently retired from the Ohio School Boards Association, he served as a senior consultant for ten years after retiring from state service as Ohio Department of Education’s Pupil Transportation Director. Pete’s state level service was built on his experience as a public-school transportation administrator for both large and small school districts.

Pete has been recognized for his expertise on the national level in the school bus industry regarding issues such as terrorism awareness, transportation funding, federal rulemaking, and safety issues. Pete is a past president of the National Association of State Directors of Transportation and served a key role in the creation of the American School Bus Council, where he acted as a national spokesperson and co-director. Throughout his career, Pete received numerous awards from different organizations, including being nationally recognized as the pupil transportation administrator of the year in 2010 by School Bus Fleet magazine.

Pete has presented to school districts and associations on transportation administration, safety, rules and regulations, and best practices in pupil transportation and authored numerous transportation articles. He has created transportation administrator training programs that provide career training and guidance for school transportation officials.










































































































































































U.S. Supreme Court: Title VII Prohibits Termination Based on Sexual Orientation

On June 15, 2020, in the consolidated matters of Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, Altitude Express v. Zarda, and R.G.& G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC, et al, the United States Supreme Court ruled in a 6-3 decision that an employer who fires an individual employee merely for being gay or transgender violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Bostock began participating in a gay recreational softball league. Shortly thereafter, Bostock received criticism for his participation in the league and for his sexual orientation and identity generally. Shortly afterward, Clayton County terminated his employment. In Altitude Express, Zarda was fired days after mentioning he was gay. In Harris, an employee was fired after the employee informed the employer that the employee planned to live and work full time as a woman. The U.S. Supreme Court held that Title VII prohibits employers from discriminating against any individual “because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” Looking to the ordinary public meaning of each word and phrase comprising that provision, the Court interpreted it to mean that an employer violates Title VII when it intentionally fires an individual employee based, at least in part, on sex. Discrimination on the basis of homosexuality or transgender status requires an employer to intentionally treat employees differently because of their sex—the very practice Title VII prohibits in all manifestations. While it was argued that Title VII was never intended to be read with such a broad brushstroke, the Court found that the use of the word sex was unambiguous and supported its holding. 

Records of Deceased Student and Mass Shooter Case Decided

Recently, in State ex. rel CNN, Inc. v. Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Local School Dist., 2019-Ohio-4187, the Second Appellate District ruled that the death of a student does not remove the legal protections of the confidentiality of student records.

In August 2019, an adult gunman killed nine people and injured twenty-seven others in a mass shooting in Dayton. Following the incident, several media outlets requested public records of the gunman’s educational records, including disciplinary records, from the School District from which he graduated.

The district released directory information concerning the student but declined to release any other records. The media outlets sued, filing a mandamus action seeking the release of the records. Ohio Revised Code (R.C.) Section 149.43 requires a public agency to release public records upon request, unless an exception applies. That section provides that records are not “public records” subject to release if a state or federal law prohibits the release of them.
The district argued that the Ohio Student Privacy Act limits access to records concerning students, specifically, that “[n]o person shall release, or permit access to personally identifiable information other than directory information concerning any student attending a public school … without the written consent of each such student who is eighteen years of age or older.”

The court concluded that, based on the plain language of R.C. 149.43, the district is barred from releasing the records requested, rejecting the news media’s argument that the district was compelled to release the requested records because the former student’s right to privacy expired with his death. The case has been appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court.

Attorney General Dave Yost filed a brief to the Supreme Court of Ohio. His brief is in support of the media outlets that are suing in order to have rights to view the student’s records. Yost argued that neither Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act nor Ohio Student Privacy Acts protects the records of students who die after becoming an adult. A local TV station and other news organizations filed briefs amicus curiae in support of CNN.

Yost’s brief states that the attorney general’s office has a duty to “ensure transparency in all levels of government.” One of the duties involved is to provide training and guidance on Ohio’s Sunshine Laws. This duty, the brief reads, is being directly impacted because the Public Records Act is being violated in not allowing access to the student records

School District Transgender Policy Violates Title IX

On August 9, 2019, a federal judge in Virginia ruled in favor of a transgender student in holding that a school district’s policy violated his rights under Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause. The Grimm v. Gloucester County School Board case stemmed from a school district’s policy requiring students to use restrooms and locker rooms that corresponded to their “biological genders.” The district provided alternative facilities for transgender students.

The court initially ruled that claims of discrimination on the basis of transgender status for gender-stereotyping are actionable under Title IX. The court further found that denying Grimm the ability to access the facilities corresponding with his gender identity were not only actionable but did in fact result in a violation of Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause.

The Board argued that it had not engaged in discrimination and that Grimm had not suffered any harm as a result of its policy. The court found this argument to be unconvincing. The court determined that the district’s policy subjected transgender students to discriminatory treatment by excluding them from places similarly situated students had access to. Further, Grimm did suffer emotional harm due to the fact he was unable to comfortably access restrooms at school. Grimm was further subjected to harm when the school district refused to update his school records in order to reflect his male identity. Failure to do so has negated his male identity and marked him different than other males any time he provided a copy of his transcript to another entity.

This ultimately led the court to grant a permanent injunction against the school district’s restroom and locker room policy. The injunction further awarded Gavin nominal damages and ordered the school district to change his school records to conform with his gender identity.

While the decision from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals is not controlling on Ohio school districts, the Sixth Circuit did rule on a very similar case back in 2016. In Dodds v. United States Department of Education, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with a lower district court decision and determined that an eleven-year-old transgender girl had a strong likelihood of success in her claims against the school district and should therefore be allowed to use the school restrooms conforming with her gender identity.

It is important to note the decision in Dodds relied on guidance from the United States Department of Education that has since been rescinded. The current position of the USDOE is that they will not accept any complaints alleging a transgender student was denied access to restrooms and locker rooms and will only accept complaints of harassment or bullying for failing to conform to sex-based stereotypes. Thus, in light of this new guidance, it remains unclear how an Ohio court would rule on this issue today.

What this means for your district:
The issue of providing accommodations to transgender students remains unclear and is a matter that will doubtless be subject to further litigation before any clarity is provided. Districts should proceed with caution when faced with these issues. For additional advice on handling requests for accommodations for transgender students, please contact an Ennis Britton attorney for assistance.