PHILADELPHIA (CN) - A teacher claims the school district that made national headlines by snooping on its students with Webcams on school-issued laptops tried to "rectify the public relations disaster" by smearing and firing him based on a false allegation that he had an improper sexual relationship with a former student.
Robert Schanne sued the Lower Merion School District, its Superintendent Christopher McGinley, its human resources director and eight members of its school board, in Federal Court.
Schanne claims that in a "rush to judgment," the district used him as a "sacrificial lamb" to demonstrate its commitment to student safety, after the embarrassing Webcam scandal. He also claims that the district "summarily denied [him] an opportunity to defend himself against the allegations that led to his firing."
Schanne claims that on Jan. 4 this year, several weeks before he was fired, the school district sent a letter "to the parents of every student in the Lower Merion School District, asserting that ... [the former student's] false allegations were in fact true, identifying plaintiff as the subject of those allegations, and stating that his 'relationship' with [Jenna] Addis [the former student] was '... absolutely unacceptable and inappropriate' and stating that plaintiff was in 'breach' of the district's 'standards.'"
Schanne accused Addis of defaming him in a federal lawsuit he filed in March.
In that complaint, he claimed, "No inappropriate relationship between plaintiff and defendant ever took place while defendant was a student, and defendant has falsely asserted otherwise in an effort to personally and professionally destroy plaintiff as a result of his refusal to continue a relationship in which they engaged - and which he ended over her objection - well after she was a student.
"As a direct result of the foregoing defamatory statements, plaintiff was fired from his job as a teacher at Lower Merion High School and his teaching career has been irreparably damaged."
In his complaint against Addis, Schanne says she was his physics student during her junior and senior years. She graduated in 2003. He says the two of them "had an occasional intimate relationship from 2004 through 2010."
He claims that after they quarreled during Thanksgiving weekend in 2010, she "maliciously contacted" the school district and "defamed" him "by falsely stating to officials at the school that she had conducted a sexual and/or romantic relationship with plaintiff while she was still a high school student."
Schanne points out that she made the accusation more than 7 years after she graduated.
In his complaint against the school district, Schanne says the district knew or should have known that the allegation was false.
He claims the district defamed and fired him in "nothing more than a public relations fig effort to reassure parents of Lower Merion students (at plaintiff's expense) that the defendant district was committed to 'doing everything it could to ensure the safety and well-being of students,' see Exhibit 'A,' and to create a positive public image to help rectify the damage created by the defendant district's unlawful video monitoring program." (Parentheses in complaint.)
Schanne seeks back pay, front pay, and damages for civil rights violations.
He is represented by Timothy Kolman with Kolman Ely, of Penndel, Pa.
Doug Young, a spokesman for the District, told Courthouse News in a statement:
"This is a baseless and shameless lawsuit and the district will move aggressively to have it dismissed. The consequences Mr. Schanne faces with regard to his reputation are a direct result of his own transgressions, not the district's appropriate response.
"With regard to his claim that he was denied the opportunity to defend himself against allegations: this is patently false. Mr. Schanne had numerous opportunities to present his case and instead refused to cooperate with the district's investigation. His refusal to cooperate formed the basis for denial of his unemployment benefits claim by an independent third party."
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