Teacher Fired For... Receiving Emails from Sister

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The above headline may not be as salacious as "the teacher fired for watching porn at school" headline that Gov. Scott Walker and the mainstream are hocking, but that is the heart of the case and exactly the reason given by an arbitrator who found that Middleton science teacher Andrew Harris shouldn't be fired, stating:

 No one believes that a person can be discharged for what he or she receives on the e-mail. If that were so, no one would ever accept an e-mail account from an employer. Employees should be disciplined for their own conduct, not what others do to them.

It's as simple as that. 

Yes, I know that Andy Harris received several lewd emails from his sister containing barnyard humor, some of which actually crossed the line into pornographic humor, (and the Middleton School Board was good enough to print them all out and make a nice binder to rile-up parents), but  seriously: who hasn't received raunchy emails from someone?  According to the website Net Nanny, “at least 25%” of all spam emails contain porn.  In other words, just about all of us are guilty of receiving porn.

The bottomline is that despite the innuendo, no students were exposed or had access to the emails that Andy Harris received from his sister, which he deleted immediately upon receiving.  Yes, he occasionally shared some of the emails his sister sent with some of the teachers that happened to be around at the moment he opened up the email, but by all accounts this was a group where lewd and crude were the norm. 

Oh, but the school board must have had a long history of problems with this guy, right?  Nope.  Harris has taught for nearly 20 years and was never once disciplined.  He was well respected by teachers and parents alike and a pillar of the community, even being elected to the school board in the past.  

So, what's all the hullabaloo about?  This case was always about one thing: Anti-union animus.  That's right, after the arbitrator conducted a thorough hearing, she found, "the decision to discharge him may have been motivated in part by his union activity."

 You see, Mr. Harris was also the vice president of his teachers union and on the bargaining team that went head to head with the superintendent and the rest of the district's management team.  Harris' computer and email were searched only after he infuriated the district superintendent by sending out an email to all of the teachers in the district accusing the district of negotiating in bad faith. The email subsequently garnered media attention when it was leaked to the press.

 The problem is, that looked like they were just going after Harris, so they had to cover it up by doing an official-looking investigation of all the computers and emails in the school district.  However, even though they found that others -gasp- had received and shared lewd emails, (again, not with students around and during break times) on a greater scale than Harris, they only gave the others brief suspensions.   The arbitrator found that  "so much disparate treatment results in this discharge being unreasonable, arbitrary, excessive, and an abuse of discretion."  In addition, the arbitrator stated:

I agree with the Union that when the District discharged Harris, it never looked back. When it found that it had a problem at the high school, it still never looked back. The District could have decided to discharge everyone. Once it decided it was not going to discharge everyone, it could have and should have looked back to see if its decision regarding Harris was in line with the others or whether it was excessive.

In addition, the notion that the arbitrator in this case was somehow a rubber-stamp for the union is absurd.  Karen Mawhinney is an independent arbitrator who was agreed upon by both the union and the school district.  In fact, according to Mawhinney, she has, "ruled against unions hundreds of times."  The truth is that she is one of Wisconsin's oldest and most respecter arbitrators and that's largely why every court in Wisconsin, including the conservative Wisconsin Supreme Court, has let her decision stand.

Even if this case was adjudicated post-Act 10, Harris' case against the school district would still be a slam-dunk, because they clearly were retaliating against him because of his association with the union and his communication with his union members. 

Governor Scott Walker, has clearly decided to make Andy "the porn-watching teacher" Harris the Willie Horton of the 2014 campaign and continues to push the absurd innuendo that he was somehow exposing children to pornography.  

You gotta hand it to Walker, though:  His former top aide, Tim Russell, was just busted last year for actually providing massive amounts of pornography to a child.  As Michelle Bauchman would say, it takes a lot of chutz-puh to now be go after Harris!