Robert Klein Engler, a former adjunct professor with Roosevelt University, was surprised to learn that he had been accused of harassment for a joke that he told in class during a discussion on immigration. He was even more surprised when the university fired him for a refusal to cooperate with a formal investigation into the issue.
Engler, a gay man, is preparing for his day in federal court, coming Jan. 24. He has filed a law suit against the university and the Roosevelt Adjunct Faculty Organization (RAFO), claiming multiple breaches of contract by the school and a breach of duty of fair representation by the union.
Doug Ibendahl, Engler's attorney, said that the school was in breach of contract when administration members failed to inform Engler of the charges against him. He said that Engler was not told what he had been accused of until two months after he had been fired.
The agreement between Roosevelt University and the RAFO states, "Any student complaint against a faculty member deemed by Roosevelt to raise the possibility of disciplinary action against the faculty member shall be brought to the attention of the faculty member. The faculty member shall also be given an opportunity to respond to such complaint prior to any disciplinary action being imposed."
Engler said he wanted to make sure he knew all of the details and had a formal written document from the school before he sat down to discuss the matter, but that despite repeated attempts, the administration refused to provide any information prior to a meeting they were trying to schedule with him.
Originally, RAFO filed a grievance on behalf of Engler, who had hoped that he would be reinstated, receive compensation for the fall classes he had expected to teach and that he could clear his name of the allegations. Engler said he was told he had a good case and that there were clear violations of the contract.
In December 2010, RAFO filed for arbitration on Engler's behalf. "At that point it is supposed to be just a matter of actually scheduling the arbitration, agreeing on an arbitrator and actually holding the hearing," said Ibendahl.
Instead, Ibendahl said the union decided not to move forward with the arbitration. "The union would say, 'It's up to us and we have limited resources, and we don't take everyone to arbitration and that is our judgment. We got you a settlement and you should just take that.'
"They had a duty, they are the sole and only bargaining agent that is supposed to be looking after the interests of their members, like Robert, and the union did not do that."
Engler does not believe that the settlement offer comes close to a fair shake and still believes that the only equitable solution is for the school to reinstate him to his position.
"When you consider the charge that they made against me and you see this particular thing that I reported in class, the question I think people still have is does that deserve what they did to me? Engler said. "Certainly I am a good teacher. I have an excellent record as a teacher. Why can't I be reinstated?"
"I believe I have done nothing wrong all through this entire affair," Engler said. "I think the only way to make this point is to go through with this federal lawsuit."
Windy City Times contacted Roosevelt University. Laura Janota, from the school's public relations office, left a message saying the school is not commenting on the case, as it is a personnel matter.
To read more about Engler's case, http://www.windycitymediagroup.com/gay/lesbian/news/ARTICLE.php?AID=31054.