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Teacher's Firing for Masturbating in Car Not Racially Motivated

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By Mark Wilson, Esq. on January 06, 2015 2:12 PM

Is it "retaliation" to be fired from your job as a student teacher if another school employee sees you masturbating in your car in a parking lot?

No, it's not a rhetorical question. And this time, it's not from Florida. Carlos Bassatt was a student teacher at a Denver high school, and another employee did catch him masturbating in his car in the high school parking lot. Bassatt died during the district court proceedings, but his estate pressed on. After losing there, the estate appealed to the Tenth Circuit.

You're Not Fired, and Then You Are

As you might expect, Bassatt's firing wasn't "retaliation." The Denver District Attorney declined to prosecute Bassatt for anything, and as a result, the principal gave Bassatt the all-clear to return to work.

That is, until the principal spoke with the district's Director of Labor Relations, who said the district could fire Bassatt even though he wasn't prosecuted for anything. Bassatt denied he'd been masturbating in his car and said the accusation was "racially motivated" and the district's decision to fire him was "discriminatory."

Much of the case at the Tenth Circuit level hinged on the standard of review. Bassatt's case started at the state court level, going from the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, then to the Colorado Court of Appeals, then to federal district court.

No Retaliation Here

The Colorado Court of Appeals found that Bassatt hadn't produced any evidence of retaliation. The Tenth Circuit couldn't find any either, and said that the allegations against Bassatt were definitely a non-discriminatory reason to fire him. The Tenth Circuit also gave deference to the principal's decision to trust the reporting employee, whose record was "exemplary."

All of Bassatt's evidence that his firing was a pretext -- an allegedly inadequate investigation, and the claim that the principal's email inviting Bassatt back to work meant the principal believed Bassatt -- was unavailing. The investigation "could have been more thorough," but on the whole, it was adequate. The reporting employee couldn't identify the person in the car in the security video, but the school's Dean of Students could. Key witnesses were interviewed, and Bassatt was able to present his side of the story.

The email, too, wasn't evidence that the principal truly didn't believe Bassatt. It stemmed from the principal's mistaken belief that Bassatt couldn't be fired unless the District Attorney filed criminal charges.

Bassatt -- or Bassatt's estate, as the case may be -- just couldn't rebut the existence of a non-discriminatory reason for firing.

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