Community College Instructor loses at Appeals Court in Alabama

September 29, 2008

A Mobile community college nursing instructor accused of sexual harassment lost one round Friday in his two-year legal battle to keep his job.

The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals reversed a decision by a hearing officer, who had overturned Michael Williams’ firing from Bishop State Community College.

In the 5-0 ruling, the appeals court said Ed Bankston must hold another hearing because his order favoring Williams “was arbitrary and capricious.”

The community college in Mobile fired Williams in 2006, saying he was unable to teach due to licensing problems.

The state Board of Nursing had reviewed complaints that he sexually harassed students and suspended his license for three months, placing him on probationary license status for two years. The board ruled that he couldn’t teach at an accredited program while on probation.

Williams used the state’s fair dismissal law for teachers to appeal his firing to a hearing officer.

Bankston reversed the termination. He also ruled the nursing board action null, ordered the school to pay $10,000 in punitive damages to the instructor, and found the complaints of sexual harassment unfounded and ordered them removed from Williams’ employment records.

The appeals court ruled Bankston went beyond his legal authority, including nullifying the nursing board’s action and ordering punitive damages.

Williams’ attorneys did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.

Bishop State attorney David O’Brien said he was pleased with the decision because the sole issue was the nursing board’s decision that Williams could not teach in an accredited nursing program while his license was on probationary status.

The court ordered Bankston to look at whether Williams’ probation status disqualified him as an instructor and, if so, what action should be taken against him.

Williams, who has a doctorate in nursing, has been involved in legal battles over his job before.

In 2002, the Bishop State president sought to fire Williams over student complaints about harassment and other issues, including insubordination. A three-person employee review panel changed it to a 42-day suspension, and that decision was upheld by the Mobile County Circuit Court and the Court of Civil Appeals.

When the nursing board took action against him, he appealed all the way to the Alabama Supreme Court, but lost.

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