Favoritism Does not Equal a Lack of Due Process

Public SectorElaine Asmus was an award-winning teacher whose conduct outside the classroom got her in trouble. She had an altercation with a colleague over school supplies. Unfortunately for her, this colleague was also the school superintendent’s wife. 

Asmus was disciplined for “bullying, harassment, or intimidation” of a colleague. When the school district held an unprofessional conduct hearing against Asmus, the school superintendent stayed out of the hearing due to his wife’s involvement. The school’s attorney recommended termination, but the school board decided to put Asmus on a one-year probationary plan.

Asmus sued, arguing that she had never been disciplined in her 28-year career, and all witnesses testified that she was an excellent teacher. She also alleged that she had to take a job with another school district because the terms of her probation were impossible to comply with. She argued that the plan was drafted in an overly detailed manner with too many daily requirements and had been designed by the attorney who was reporting to the superintendent.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho did not agree and ruled that she did not have claims for violations of her due process rights to a fair and impartial hearing. Asmus v. Snake River Sch. Dist. No. (D. Idaho 2016). The court agreed that there may have been some appearance of impropriety because of the involvement of the superintendent’s wife, but concluded Asmus couldn’t show that the school board prejudged her case as a result. The court explained that the school board members “enjoy a presumption of honesty and integrity.”

What likely led to success was the superintendent recusing himself in front of the school board. Keep this in mind if you have a hearing process, and feel free to call us with any other questions about this topic.