Fired for Doing His Job, Schoolteacher Says
PITTSBURGH (CN) - A substitute teacher claims in court that he was fired after he reported suspected child abuse to police - which he is required to do as a schoolteacher.
Christopher Harmon sued Crawford County School District, its Superintendent Charles Heller and Meadville Area High School Principal John Higgins, in Federal Court.
He claims that after he reported the suspected sexual abuse to Higgins, the principal "attempted to intimidate and dissuade Harmon from making any additional reports of suspected child abuse outside the 'chain of command.' In other words, Harmon was only supposed to report suspected child abuse to him and no one else. These intimidation attempts culminated in Principal Higgins threatening to blackmail Harmon and to take away his licensure as a substitute teacher," according to the lawsuit.
Harmon claims he was fired the day after he reported the suspected child abuse.
"While substitute teaching at MASH on or about Sept. 26, 2013, Harmon overheard a conversation where a student revealed that her minor sister was engaging in sexual intercourse with her mother's paramour, who is believed to be in his 40s. According to the student, this sexual relationship began when her sister was two years younger, and had continued for the past two years," according to the complaint.
"Harmon informed the student that he had overheard the conversation and was required by law to report it, as such a sexual relationship constitutes statutory rape. Instead of denying the incidents of statutory rape had occurred, the student pleaded with Harmon not to report it. This lack of denial only strengthened Harmon's suspicion of abuse."
Harmon claims that when he insisted that he was required to report the statutory rape, "the student went to Principal Higgins' office and pleaded with him not to report it."
"Principal Higgins then met with Harmon and attempted to intimidate and dissuade Harmon from making any additional reports of suspected child abuse outside the 'chain of command.' ...
Harmon says he reported the alleged abuse to the Pennsylvania Department of Public welfare anyway on Sept. 27.
He was fired the next day by a letter that stated it was, "[d]ue to the reported behavior that [he] exhibited as a substitute teacher at [MASH] on September 26, 2013." (Brackets in complaint.)
Harmon says he immediately complained about the wrongful termination but his complaints were dismissed by Superintendent Heller, and the termination remained in effect.
Harmon says he "was acting as a citizen and speaking upon matters of public concern when he reported suspected child abuse and Principal Higgins' attempt to suppress its reporting to Superintendent Heller and the authorities, including the Department of Welfare and the police, and thereafter his speech is protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution."
He seeks lost wages, reinstatement, costs and damages for constitutional violations, retaliation, and Whistleblower Law violations.
He is represented by Samuel Cordes and John Black III of Pittsburgh.