There was a collective sigh of relief from employers and school districts alike this week when a California Court of Appeal overturned a personnel commission’s decision to reinstate a middle school administrator after he posted a pornographic and obscene ad on the popular Craigslist website soliciting (free) sex.
Frank Lampedusa was a tenured dean of students in the San Diego Unified School District when he placed an ad on Craigslist stating in obscene, vulgar and albeit misspelled and grammatically incorrect phrases that he wished to engage in sexual relations with another adult. The ad also contained pictures of Lampedusa’s face and genitalia. An anonymous parent of a student reported the ad to San Diego police who notified the District. Lampedusa was placed on paid administrative leave and served with notice of intent to dismiss for “evident unfitness for service” and “immoral conduct,” among other charges.
Certificated public educators may appeal their termination to a three-member commission on professional competence. Such a commission ordered Lampedusa reinstated, reasoning that the District failed to establish a nexus between his conduct and his performance as an educator. The District sought relief in Superior Court and ultimately the Court of Appeal.
The Court of Appeal held that the commission’s decision must be set aside and that Lampedusa’s conduct did in fact constitute grounds for dismissal, applying the “Morrison factors” which are used to determine whether a nexus exists between misconduct and the impact on performance as an educator.
The Court surprisingly gave weight to the hearsay evidence of the anonymous parent complaint to find that the conduct had an adverse effect on students. Nonetheless, Lampedusa’s principal also testified that she lost confidence in Lampedusa’s ability to serve as a role model for students, thus establishing an adverse effect on other educators. The Court also gave weight to the fact that the conduct was not remote in time and that Lampedusa served as an administrator and educator in a middle school. Lampedusa’s conduct was further aggravated by the fact that he posted graphic, pornographic photos, and obscene written material on a website open to the public, that he admitted to posting similar ads in the past, that he would probably post tamer ads in the future, and that he believed he had not done anything immoral.
The Court also relied on evidence that Lampedusa did not take responsibility for his conduct, but rather stated that he expected parents and students to take care not to look at such ads on Craigslist (reasoning that ads are preceded by an advisory that the content is explicit and that users should be at least 18 years of age). Lampedusa also claimed to believe that, if a student saw his ad, it would not affect his ability to teach them effectively.
The Court also found that Lampedusa’s conduct was immoral because it evidenced indecency and moral indifference. The Court further noted that disciplining Lampedusa for publicly posting his ad did not infringe on his constitutional rights or the rights of other teachers. These factors established evident unfitness for service.
This case is a victory for employers, not to mention students, parents and our schools. It is worth noting here that this educator was not disciplined for his private sexual conduct and certainly, such conduct between two consenting adults was not the issue. It is the fact that this educator, in poor judgment, decided to post obscene and pornographic statements and photos publicly that justifiably cost him his job.