Teacher Claims He Was Fired For Reporting Suspicion Of Child Sexual Abuse

| by Sarah Fruchtnicht

A Pennsylvania substitute teacher claims he was wrongfully terminated after he reported suspicion of child sexual abuse to police.

Meadville Area High School teacher Christopher Harmon insists he was threatened for reporting his suspicions to authorities, instead of the principal, and was fired the day after he made the report.

Harmon filed suit in federal court against the Crawford County School District, its Superintendent Charles Heller and MASH Principal John Higgins on Feb. 3.

The lawsuit states that Higgins "attempted to intimidate and dissuade Harmon from making any additional reports of suspected child abuse outside the 'chain of command.' In other words, Harmon was only supposed to report suspected child abuse to him and no one else. These intimidation attempts culminated in Principal Higgins threatening to blackmail Harmon and to take away his licensure as a substitute teacher.”

Harmon says he overheard a student conversation in September in which a girl said her minor sister was “engaging in sexual intercourse with her mother's paramour, who is believed to be in his 40s.”

The student allegedly said the sexual relationship had been ongoing for the last two years.

"Harmon informed the student that he had overheard the conversation and was required by law to report it, as such a sexual relationship constitutes statutory rape,” the complaint says. “Instead of denying the incidents of statutory rape had occurred, the student pleaded with Harmon not to report it. This lack of denial only strengthened Harmon's suspicion of abuse."

The student also allegedly “pleaded” with Principal Higgins not to let Harmon report the incident.

Harmon reported the alleged abuse to the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare on Sept. 27.

The termination letter he received on Sept. 28 said it was "[d]ue to the reported behavior that [he] exhibited as a substitute teacher at [MASH] on September 26, 2013.”

School district labor attorney Richard Perhacs says Harmon was removed for walking out amid a conversation with Higgins about the proper way to file the report.

“Child protective services law is very clear,” Perhacs told the Meadville Tribune. “When an employee receives this information while at work, he’s supposed to report it to his building supervisor. He went outside the chain of command, which is what this is all about.”

Harmon believes he "was acting as a citizen and speaking upon matters of public concern when he reported suspected child abuse and Principal Higgins' attempt to suppress its reporting to Superintendent Heller and the authorities, including the Department of Welfare and the police, and thereafter his speech is protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution."

He is seeking reinstatement, lost wages, costs and damages for constitutional violations, retaliation, and Whistleblower Law violations.

Sources: Courthouse News Service, Meadville Tribune