Ethics 2 Case Studies
Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
The Family and Medical Leave Act was passed by Congress in 1993. It is designed to allow eligible employees up to a total of twelve work weeks of unpaid leave during any twelve-month period for one or more of the following reasons: Birth and care of the newborn child of the employee Placement with the employee of a son or daughter for adoption or foster care Caring for an immediate family member (spouse, child, or parent) with a serious health condition Medical leave when the employee is unable to work because of a serious health condition Employers with fifty or more employees are covered by this act. An eligible employee is one who has been employed for at least twelve months or for at least 1,250 hours over the previous twelve months. The law permits an employee to elect to use or the employer to require the employee to use accrued paid leave, such as vacation or sick leave, for some or all of the FMLA leave period. When paid leave is substituted for unpaid FMLA leave, it may be counted against the twelve-week FMLA leave entitlement if the employer is properly notified of the designation when the leave begins. An employer may raise questions of the employee to confirm whether the leave is needed or being taken for qualified FMLA purposes. Periodic reports regarding the employee’s status and intent to return to work after leave are permissible under the act. If an employer wishes to obtain another opinion, the affected employee may be required to secure additional medical certification at the employer’s expense. In a case involving FMLA in Florida, the U.S. Eleventh Circuit of Appeals held that to qualify as a “serious health condition” that triggers the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), an employee’s incapacity must entail a continuous period of more than seventy-two hours.35 FMLA provides an eligible employee twelve weeks of leave for a “serious health condition” that renders the employee unable to perform assigned tasks. The court rejected an employee’s argument that her incapacity and absence from work during seven consecutive partial days met FMLA’s requirement that her incapacity be counted for more than three calendar days. The court held the U.S. Department of Labor’s definition of the term serious health condition involving continuous treatment to be reasonable and consistent with the intent of FMLA.
Teacher Rights—Unwed Teacher and Girlfriend Living Together
Tom Davis is a newly appointed principal in a small conservative community in the South. He has just been assigned Mark Scott, a dynamic, energetic seventh-grade math teacher. Davis later learns that Scott and his girlfriend are living together. The principal is informed of this by a group of parents who are outraged that Scott is setting a poor example for young children. They are upset and are calling for action. Davis talks with Scott, who does not deny that he and his girlfriend are living together. He further informs Scott in a very professional manner that what he does in his private life is his business.
1. Is Tom justified in approaching Mark on a personal and private matter? Why or why not?
2. How does Davis handle this situation with Scott?
3. Does the principal have a right to infringe on a teacher’s private life? Why or why not?
4. Outline a plan to resolve this situation.
5. Would the courts likely support your plan of resolution?
Teacher’s Freedom of Speech—Racial Content
Freddie Watts, principal, and Jimmy Brothers, assistant principal, are African American administrators assigned to administer a predominantly black high school in the deep South. Ann Griffin, a white tenured teacher, during a heated conversation with the two administrators stated that she “hated all black folks.” When word of her statement leaked, it caused negative reactions among colleagues both black and white. The principal recommended dismissal based on concerns regarding her ability to treat students fairly and her judgment and competency as a teacher.
1. Is Watts justified in his recommending Ann’s dismissal? Why, or why not?
2. Is the principal overreacting to Ann’s statement? Why, or why not?
3. Does Ann’s statement establish a basis for dismissal? Why, or why not?
4. Can Ann make the case that her statement was a private statement that does not give rise to serious disciplinary action? Why, or why not?
5. As principal, would you have made a similar recommendation for dismissal? Why or why not? 6. How do you feel the court would rule in this case? Provide a rationale for your response.
Freedom of Expression—Negative Comments
You are a middle school principal in a working-class conservative community in the Midwest. One of your tenured teachers placed a series of very negative comments about you and the school on her Facebook page. These comments were made over the weekend. A number of your students informed you that they read the teacher’s comments. In fact, you heard a group of students chatting and laughing about the comments. In addition, you received phone calls from a number of parents who conveyed how negative and unprofessional the teacher’s comments were. Discussion Questions
1. How would you react to parents and students?
2. How do you approach the teacher who is allegedly responsible for the negative comments?
3. If evidence reveals that the teacher is responsible for these comments, what action would you take?
4. What options are available to you in addressing this situation?
5. What precautions must be taken to ensure that the teacher’s rights are protected?
6. How do you balance the rights of the teacher against the need to protect the integrity of the school?
7. Please discuss the probable consequences of each option you identified.
8. What is your final decision?
9. Provide a rationale for your decision.
Flag Salute—A Nonconforming Teacher
As principal of Rockville Elementary in a small community in a rural district, Steve Jones finds that his community is extremely patriotic and that the school has had a long-standing practice of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and saluting the flag every morning. He is informed by students and other teachers that Sarah Allen does not recite the pledge with her class or salute the flag. Steve Jones is obviously upset because he feels that Ms. Allen is setting a poor example for students and not conforming to community sentiments. He calls her into his office.
1. Does Steve have a justifiable reason to challenge Sarah’s failure to recite the pledge? Why or why not?
2. Does Sarah Allen have a right not to participate in the morning ritual? Why or why not?
3. Are there legitimate grounds on which she may refuse to participate? If so, identify them.
4. If she fails to participate at the principal’s request, could her refusal amount to insubordination? Why or why not?
5. As principal, how would you handle this situation?
6. How would the court likely rule in this case?
7. What are the administrative implications?
Discrimination—Driving Under the Influence
Mary Martin, a female, tenured teacher in a rural conservative district, was stopped by the local police and charged with driving under the influence. She explained to the police that she had just left a Christmas party given by her principal and that she had consumed only a few glasses of wine. She was also aware that some of her male colleagues had been stopped in the past but not charged. Nevertheless, she was still charged. As her arrest becomes public, there is pressure from the school board for her to resign.
1. Can the board force Martin to resign? Why or why not?
2. Is the infraction serious enough to warrant dismissal? Why or why not?
3. What about male colleagues who were not charged for similar offenses?
4. What rights does Martin have as a teacher in this situation?
5. What factors would the court consider in ruling on her case?
6. What conclusion do you think the court would reach in this situation? Provide a rationale for your response.
Discrimination and a Reduction in Force
Your district must implement a Reduction in Force (RIF) based on declining enrollment and budget cuts. You have recommended a list of teachers from your school to the superintendent. One of the teachers on the list had previously filed an EEOC suit against you alleging discrimination regarding a department chair’s position that she was not awarded. You know that she will allege retaliation as the basis for her layoff.
1. How do you counter her charge?
2. What data do you need to justify your recommendation?
3. Should you allow her to retain employment based on the previous EEOC suit?
4. How do you legally defend your recommendation?
Incompetency and Questionable Performance
Gloria Williams, a well-respected tenth-grade social studies teacher, has taught at Johnson High School for over fifteen years. Her formal evaluations were quite good under the previous administration. She was informally evaluated each year during her fifteen-year tenure. The new principal, Bob Mason, who has held his position for only two years, recommended dismissal for incompetency based on two informal assessments of Williams’s performance.
1. What are the chances that Williams may be dismissed for incompetency?
2. Is there sufficient evidence to sustain such a charge? Why or why not?
3. Ideally, what process should be used to successfully remove a teacher for incompetence? Outline the process.
4. Based on information provided in this case, has Gloria Williams been treated fairly? Why or why not?
5. How would the court likely rule in this case? Provide a rationale for your response. What are the administrative implications of this case?
Insubordination—Failure to Change a Student’s Grade
Alice Hill, an eleventh-grade English teacher at Fairview High School, located in a fairly progressive school district, assigned the grade of F to a star basketball player, Tom Benson, who had failed to turn in assigned work. Hill encountered considerable criticism from coaches and other colleagues at school. A request was made by the principal, Jim Martin, for Hill to return to school and change the grade. Due to stress associated with this event, Hill was unable to do so and arranged for a substitute to cover her classes for two days. The principal recommended dismissal based on charges of insubordination for failure to return to change the grade.
1. Was Alice Hill justified in not returning to change the grade? Why or why not?
2. Does the principal have sufficient grounds to recommend insubordination? Why or why not? 3. Did Alice Hill’s failure to return constitute insubordination? Why or why not?
4. As principal, would you have taken the position the principal took in this situation? Why or why not?
5. How would the court likely rule in this case? Provide a rationale for your response.
Unprofessional Conduct—Sexual Activity
Paula Gibson, an elementary school teacher in an upscale progressive city, was arrested by an undercover policeman for openly engaging in sexual activity with two men at a singles’ club party. She was recommended for dismissal by her principal, Hank Doss, based on this conduct. Her defense was that these acts took place at a private party and should have no impact on her capacity to teach.
1. Is the principal justified in recommending dismissal? Why or why not?
2. Should acts that occur in private be held against teachers? Why or why not?
3. Does Paula have a justifiable defense in this situation? Why or why not?
4. What standards would the court use in ruling in this case?
5. What do you feel the court’s ruling would be? Provide a rationale for your response.
6. What are the implications for teachers and administrators in this case?