Baton Rouge, LA-The firing of a tenured Louisiana State University for using profanity in her class room has once again raised alarm that the Department of Education’s strict definition of sexual harassment is quashing educators’ free speech rights.
The Huffington Post reports that LSU fired Teresa Buchannan for sexual harassment after an 18-month investigation. According to LSU, Buchanan, who taught early education, used profanity in the class room and occasionally told jokes of a sexual nature in class.
Buchannan told Reason that her use of profanity was free speech. She told the magazine that “They’re making it sound like I’m some horrible off-the-wall creep.”
LSU administrators, however, maintain that her behavior met the threshold of harassment and were justified in firing her.
In a statement sent to Reason, LSU said: “Teresa Buchanan was not terminated due to isolated incidents. LSU has documented evidence of a history of inappropriate behavior that included verbal abuse, intimidation and harassment of our students.”
Under federal statutes, sexual harassment must be repeated and pervasive for the victim to have a valid complaint. But last year, the Department of Education changed that standard for colleges, stating that sexual harassment should be broadly defines to include, “any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature,” and does not have to meet the “repeated and pervasive” standard for a professor to be fired or a student expelled.
That broad definition came after a wave of allegations that colleges and universities across the country were not taking allegations of sexual harassment on campus seriously. While it is wise for college administrators to take sexual harassment seriously, such a broad definition of harassment means people like Teresa Buchanan will be unjustly fired.
In a similar case to Buchanan’s, a Colorado professor who lost her job in early 2014 after a student complained about the lessons included in a sociology class. Professor Patricia Adler taught the “Deviancy in the U.S.” class for several years, but last year one her students complained that they were forced to participate in a role-playing lesson about prostitutes.
CU-B denied firing her for the prostitution lecture, but she maintains she was given the choice to resign or stop teaching the class. She chose to resign but felt like she had no choice but leave her tenured position.
Sexual harassment is serious and can adversely affect the victim and it needs to be addressed but it doesn’t appear as though the behavior of these two professors warranted such tough discipline.
On the other hand, there are many employers who don’t take sexual harassment complaints seriously and don’t take the appropriate disciplinary actions. They allow a hostile work environment to persist. If you are being sexually harassed and no one is listening, you are urged to contact a sexual harassment attorney to discuss your case. At USAttorneys has a accomplished employment law attorneys who can help you put an end to the abusive behavior and will make certain your complaints aren’t ignored.