Slippery Rock University was entitled to fire a professor who made a sexual comment about a student during a spring break trip, according to a Commonwealth Court ruling.
The decision Friday reversed an arbitrator's ruling in April 2012 that demanded the university reinstate Robert Ammon Jr. as a full professor and chairman of the Sports Management Department with full back pay. By a 2-1 vote, the appeals court rejected Mr. Ammon's assertion that the comment was simply "trash talk" rather than sexual harassment.
Mr. Ammon's termination stemmed from his conduct during a 2010 spring break trip to Spain with 19 students. After the group returned to campus, one student told Mr. Ammon that it made her uncomfortable when he asked the students at a bar in Madrid how many sexual partners each had had. She said he then proceeded to tell the students he had had more than 100 sexual partners, according to court documents.
According to the complaint, Mr. Ammon claimed that he only made those comments because he was intoxicated. He apologized to the group during a subsequent meeting.
The student who told Mr. Ammon that his actions made her uncomfortable described the incident to her mother, who threatened to tell university administrators if the tenured professor did not do so himself, according to court documents.
Mr. Ammon had been previously reprimanded for sexually harassing a student in 2006 and agreed to resign if another incident occurred. When he reported this complaint to the dean of the College of Education, Mr. Ammon did not dispute the student's allegations but said he did not believe this was a case of sexual harassment, according to the complaint.
In May 2010, Mr. Ammon was interviewed by university administrators and admitted to making "unprofessional statements." The university notified Mr. Ammon via letter that he was terminated effective July 30, 2010, according to court documents.
Upon learning of Mr. Ammon's dismissal, the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculty union challenged the firing, arguing that the professor had not received a formal notification of a complaint. The university argued in court that this shouldn't have been necessary because Mr. Ammon self-reported the incident, but the arbitrator ruled in favor of the professor.
The appeals court overturned the arbitrator's ruling after concluding that Mr. Ammon was given the opportunity to defend himself.
Mr. Ammon could not be reached for comment.
Jessica Tully: email@example.com, 412-263-1159 or on Twitter: @jessalynn4.