ELY – Ely School Board members accepted an arbitrator’s decision Monday night and will reinstate an employee that the district had previously terminated for sexual harassment.
The employee, Kirt Hartshorn, had filed a grievance following the school board’s decision, last November, to dismiss him. Arbitrator Richard Anderson considered Hartshorn’s case at a hearing held last month, and he issued his decision this past week. Anderson found that termination was too severe a penalty for the actions attributed to Hartshorn, and that a 90-day suspension without pay was the appropriate response.
“The School District did what we had to do,” said Superintentent Alexis Leitgeb. “We followed our progressive discipline policy to create a safe working environment. We will honor the arbitrator’s decision.”
Hartshorn will return to work next week, Leitgeb said, and will be awarded back pay and benefits beyond the 90-day suspension period.
Following his termination, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local Union 295, the collective bargaining representative of the school district’s support staff, filed a grievance claiming the employee was wrongly terminated.
According to the arbitration document, Hartshorn was involved in three incidents between 2002 and 2004 involving the touching of students that the district claimed supported their actions for termination. The dates of the incidents, reported by teachers, were Jan. 31, 2002, Dec. 11, 2002, and April 20, 2004.
There were no reported incidents involving Hartshorn from April, 2004 until the 2013-2014 school year when incidents involving sexual harassment were reported by three female teachers. According to the arbitration document, a first-year teacher reported on Oct. 30, 2013, she was grabbed around the waist by Hartshorn. A second incident was reported after Nov. 6, 2013, also involving a teacher being touched and inappropriate comments.
The School Board held a closed hearing on Nov. 12, 2013, to address the sexual harassment allegations and agreed to terminate him.
In his decision, the arbitrator agreed that some form of discipline was appropriate. “Based upon the evidence, I conclude that the District had ample grounds to discipline regardless of whether or not I consider the touching of the teacher warrants discipline. I do believe (Hartshorn) never intended nor is there any evidence that his actions or comments to the teacher were intended to be sexually motivated.”
But the arbitrator found that Hartshorn’s actions, as well as mitigating factors, did not justify termination. “There is however, sufficient evidence to levy a long-term suspension. (He) engaged in admitted inappropriate touching of teacher(s) coupled with inappropriate remarks to three teachers, which not only made them uncomfortable but arguably violated the (School) District’s policy. I believe that a harsh penalty is appropriate in order to ensure that (he) understands the message that a continuation of his inappropriate conduct will be justification for his immediate termination.”
Hartshorn has been employee for the school district since 1987, starting out as a part-time bus driver. At the time of his dismissal, he held the position of maintenance engineer, first class.