Lock Haven University has been ordered to rehire a mathematics professor who was fired after the college discovered he had been convicted of sex crimes nearly 30 years ago.
The Commonwealth Court upheld an arbitrator’s ruling that the professor, unnamed in the court’s opinion over privacy concerns, should be reinstated to teach classes to all students except high school students enrolled in college classes.
Though the opinion did not identify the professor, federal court records show that Charles Morgan filed a lawsuit against Lock Haven over his firing, which said that in 1989, when he was 19 years old, Morgan was convicted of sexual abuse in Kentucky and sentenced to prison. According to Commonwealth Court Senior Judge James Gardner Colins’ opinion, Morgan was charged with performing oral sex on an 8-year-old-boy and engaged in “another unspecified sexual act with another minor.”
Morgan’s attorney in the Commonwealth Court case, James L. Cowden, did not return a call seeking comment. Brian P. Gabriel, who represents the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education and Lock Haven, also did not return a call seeking comment.
After completing his five-year prison sentence, Morgan earned a bachelor’s degree and later a Ph.D in mathematics and was hired by Lock Haven in 2004, according to Colins. Morgan’s conviction was discovered through a series of background checks mandated by the Child Protective Services Law—enacted in 2014 in the wake of child sex abuse scandal at Penn State.
When Morgan was hired, he was asked whether he had been convicted of any crimes in the previous 10 years. He argued that because he gave an honest answer, no, he should not have been fired. He also argued that he was exempt from the background checks because he did not have extensive contact with children, such as dual-enrolled high school students, while teaching at Lock Haven.
The arbitrator sided with Morgan, “holding that the preponderance of evidence showed that [Morgan's] youthful criminal acts had not followed him into middle age,” according to Colins, who was joined in the opinion by Judges Anne Covey and Michael Wojcik. The arbitrator also allowed for Morgan to be exempt from teaching high school-age students enrolled at the University, instead handling upper level and graduate classes.
PASSHE claimed that the arbitrator’s ruling flew in the face of the public policy interest in protecting children.
Colins looked to a legal test consisting of three parts to come to a solution; first, identifying the conduct; second, determining whether the conduct implicates well-defined public policy; and third, determining whether the arbitrator’s award poses an “unacceptable risk” that would undermine the policy.
“We conclude that the arbitrator’s award here reinstating grievant [Morgan] to his position as a faculty member at Lock Haven with the qualification that he would no longer teach in classes or programs that admit dual-enrolled students did not violate public policy,” Colins said.
The judge continued, “The arbitrator found that various mitigating factors existed that militated against grievant’s dismissal, including the fact that over 25 years had elapsed since grievant’s crime, his relatively young age at the time of the incident, the fact that he completed a voluntary sexual offender program, and the fact that after being released from prison he completed two advanced degrees at other universities while serving as a tutor and supervisor of graduate students.”
Colins said that the chance of Morgan relapsing and committing a similar crime was “remote.”