Court: LHU professor fired for child molestation must be reinstated

From PennLive

HARRISBURG — Lock Haven University must reinstate a mathematics professor who was fired after his 28-year-old conviction for molesting two children was discovered, a Commonwealth Court panel ruled Friday.

Prof. Charles Morgan can’t be allowed to teach high school students who are taking advanced placement classes at the school, however, the state judges found.

That decision, outlined in an opinion by Senior Judge James Gardner Colins, upholds an arbitration ruling won on the prof’s behalf by the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, the professors’ union.

University officials and the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education appealed to Commonwealth Court in a bid to void the arbitration award.

Colins doesn’t name the professor at the center of the controversy, but Morgan’s challenge to his firing was previously reported by PennLive. The judge’s opinion stated that Morgan was hired at Lock Haven in 2004 and was promoted to full professor in 2009 “based on his highly regarded teaching and scholarship.”

Morgan’s criminal record was discovered in 2016 after the state’s universities won court permission to require instructors who teach students who are minors to submit to criminal background checks, Colins noted.

An FBI report on Morgan showed that in 1989, when he was 19, he was charged in Kentucky with two counts of sodomy and a count of sexual assault. Colins wrote that it appears Morgan performed oral sex on an 8-year-old boy and engaged in an unspecified sex act with another minor. He was convicted in 1990 and sentenced to 5 years in prison. He reduced his prison time by completing a voluntary sex offender therapy program, the state judge noted.

Morgan didn’t report his conviction on his job application for Lock Haven in 2004 because it asked only whether he had any pending criminal charges or had been convicted of a crime in the past decade, Colins noted.

The Lock Haven President Michael Fiorentino placed Morgan on paid suspension when his criminal record came to light. Despite Morgan’s insistence that he had not committed any more crimes and was a “safe member of the faculty,” he was fired in May 2016.

That’s when the faculty union sought binding arbitration to secure his reinstatement.

In ordering LHU to give Morgan his job back, the arbitrator cited the teacher’s “unblemished” record at the school. There was no just cause for the firing because “the preponderance of evidence showed (Morgan’s) youthful criminal acts had not followed him into middle age,” Colins wrote.

The arbitrator also found that barring Morgan from teaching high school students would not cause staffing problems for the university. The chairman of the mathematics department said that wouldn’t be an issue, the arbitrator noted, since only a few dozen high school students are enrolled for classes at a time.

In backing the arbitration order, Colins rejected the university system’s contention that reinstating Morgan would undermine state policy aimed at protecting children from sex predators.

“We conclude that the award bore a ‘reasonable, calibrated and defensible relationship’ to the threat posed by the (Morgan’s) conduct…and therefore did not violate public policy,” Colins wrote.

Morgan, a Centre County resident, filed a civil rights lawsuit over his firing in U.S. Middle District Court last year. That case against Fiorentino, Lock Haven and the university system has not yet been resolved.

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