Indiana Supreme Court Backs University’s Firing of a Tenured Professor in Sexual Harassment Case

The Indiana Supreme Court ruled this week that the University of Evansville had the right to fire a tenure professor who was accused of violating the university’s sexual harassment policy.

John Haegert served on the English department faculty at the university from 1979 to 2004. He received tenure in 1982. According to the published decision in the court case,  “on August 25, 2004, an English department colleague was in the department lounge interviewing a prospective student and her parents. Haegert walked into the lounge accompanied by a female student, said “Hi, Sweetie” to his faculty colleague, walked up to her — standing with his belt buckle at her eye-level, about a foot from her face — and stroked his fingers under her chin and along her neck.”

After a formal complaint was filed, the university conducted an investigation and subsequently fired Haegert. The investigation found that a number of women students alleged that they had similar experiences with Haegert but none filed a formal complaint.

Haegert in turn filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the university. Haegert lost the original case but won an appeal with the court concluding that “the University failed to carry its burden of proof with respect to the sexual harassment complaint.” But the Supreme Court ruled that the university was in its rights to fire Haegert under the terms of his employment contract which included a stipulation that employees adhere to the sexual harassment policy as outlined in the Faculty Manual. The applicable passage in the Faculty Manual defines sexual harassment as:

“Any unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favors, reference to gender or sexual orientation, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when: Such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or educational experience, creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working or academic environment and when this conduct has no germane or legitimate relationship to the subject matter of a course.”

The court ruled that the university was within its rights to fire Haegert because he did not adhere to this provision.

Filed Under: Sexual Assault/Harassment


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