Legal Issues Involving Educator Sexual Misconduct: Understanding the Risks and Assessing the Consequences

Legal Issues Involving Educator Sexual Misconduct: Understanding the Risks and Assessing the Consequences

Sean Ashley Fields (CGA Law Firm, USA)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 11
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0657-7.ch005
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Abstract

In addition to the trauma for victims of an educator's sexual misconduct, such conduct can have lasting consequences for the educator, their employer, and the community the educator serves. The educator who crosses professional boundaries and engages in sexual misconduct with students faces the possibility of both professional and personal consequences. In addition to discussing these consequences, this chapter will identify and examine the liability risks for school employers when an educator engages in sexual misconduct. This chapter will also provide insight into how a school employer can to adopt and implement measures to prevent and manage risks posed by sexual misconduct through background checks, training, supervision, reporting procedures, and conducting investigations when appropriate.
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Liability

One way to consider the issue of the liability is to think in terms of legal responsibility. People who are not familiar with the legal system often think of civil liability in the same context as criminal liability. While criminal liability requires both a criminal mental state and a criminal act, civil liability is a far less exacting standard. Civil liability is fundamentally about legal responsibility. In many cases, it does not require a specific mental state, the intent to do harm, or even an affirmative act that causes direct harm. In a civil lawsuit, liability frequently turns on a defendant’s failure to meet a standard of care or the failure to take certain measures when the defendant either knew or should have known that a course of action would result in the injury of another. One of the more basic forms of civil liability comes in the form of negligence.

In most states, liability under the theory of negligence may be found when:

  • The employer had a duty which is also referred to as a standard of care;

  • The employer breached that duty by failing to act in a reasonable manner;

  • The breach of duty was the cause (direct and proximate) of the plaintiff’s injuries; and

  • The plaintiff suffered damages (Bublick, 2009).

When considering the first element relating to duty, it is helpful to consider how a reasonable employer would have handled a particular situation. For example, does a school employer have a duty to take reasonable steps to keep students safe? Would a reasonable school employer ignore the report of a middle school student that a male teacher was making inappropriate remarks to her regarding the status of the student’s virginity? Most reasonable minds would not have trouble deciding that a reasonable school employer would not ignore such a report or that the employer should have taken steps to investigate and ensure the safety of the student. In terms of the third element focused on the cause or causation of the plaintiff’s injury, there are two distinctive prongs to causation for liability to attach. A plaintiff suing a defendant for negligence would have to prove both direct cause and proximate cause. Direct cause focuses on something referred to in the law as the “but for” test. This test analyzes whether the injury would have happened “but for” the defendant’s breach of duty. Proximate cause focuses on whether it was foreseeable the defendant’s breach of duty would cause the plaintiff’s injury. Finally, a plaintiff must prove damages. Examples of monetary damages include medical bills including psychiatric counseling, pain and suffering, and in extreme cases, punitive damages. Plaintiffs are required to present evidence that establishes the damages they are requesting in a legal complaint filed to commence a lawsuit.

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