An arbitrator on June 16 ruled in favor of the Bound Brook Board of Education in a tenure case, resulting in the termination of a teacher who had used district computers to seek sexual services online, and potentially bringing to an end the long and complex case.
Arbitrator Walt DeTreux’s decision resulted in the termination of Glenn Ciripompa. (Glenn Ciripompa v. School District of Borough of Bound Brook, Agency Docket #177-7/14.) This matter began when two tenure charges were brought in June 2014, and resulted in a journey which included NJSBA’s amicus involvement at the New Jersey Supreme Court.
The matter initially arose after a tweet from a student prompted the district to do an investigation, which uncovered Ciripompa’s pervasive misuse of his district-issued technology, as well as evidence of inappropriate behavior toward female colleagues, often in the presence of students. As a result, the district filed a two-count tenure complaint seeking to terminate Ciripompa.
The first count centered upon Ciripompa’s use of district computers, sometimes during work hours, to send explicit pictures of himself and to seek similar pictures in return from various women on the internet. He had also utilized the district computers to seek paid sexual services.
This second count charged Ciripompa with conduct unbecoming, and centered upon his inappropriate and unprofessional conduct towards female staff members, including: asking staff out on dates in front of students; commenting on physical appearance and dress of female staff members; and using students to deliver flowers and messages to female staff members.
The original arbitrator found the board had sustained the first count, and issued a 120-day suspension, but that the board had not sustained its burden on the second count because the arbitrator changed the charge to that of hostile work environment sexual harassment, instead of conduct unbecoming. Based upon various errors on the part of the initial arbitrator, the board appealed, with the trial division vacating the award and ordering a new hearing before a new arbitrator. However, the Appellate Division reversed and reinstated the arbitrator’s decision.
Ultimately, the N.J. Supreme Court reinstated the trial court’s decision, the arbitration award was vacated and the matter was remanded to a new arbitrator for new hearing. In doing so, the Supreme Court held if an arbitrator decided a legal question not placed before him or her by the parties, that is “tantamount to a claim that the arbitrator ‘imperfectly executed [his or her] powers’ as well as a claim that the arbitrator exceeded his or her authority within the meaning of N.J.S.A. 2A:24-8(d)” and found the issue decided by the Ciripompa arbitrator was not what submitted. In accepting the argument of NJSBA and the Bound Brook Board of Education, the Supreme Court further held it is not necessary to prove hostile work environment to satisfy the burden of showing unbecoming conduct. Indeed, ‘[a] charge of unbecoming conduct requires only evidence of inappropriate conduct by teaching professionals. It focuses on the morale, efficiency, and public perception of an entity, and how those concerns are harmed by allowing teachers to behave inappropriately while holding public employment.’”
On remand, the new arbitrator reviewed the facts and determined the board had sustained both counts of the complaint. The arbitrator noted the board had submitted 183 pages of sexually inappropriate emails and emailed photos which were sent and/or received on a district computer, in violation of the policy for use which states the computers were only for administrative and educational purposes. In finding Ciripompa violated the policy and engaged in conduct unbecoming, the arbitrator reasoned “[s]olicitation of sex served no administrative or educational purpose for the benefit of the District or its students” and this was “inappropriate conduct for a teaching professional”.
As to the second count, the arbitrator found Ciripompa violated the Board’s “Inappropriate Staff Conduct” and “Sexual Harassment” policies based upon his interactions with female staff. A number of these interactions involved one female teacher in particular, with Ciripompa quietly whispering comments in her ear about her physical appearance and dress, as well sending her carnations with his identity unknown (although known to the students who sold and delivered the carnations). He also suggested a play-date between their children because his wife would be away. While the play-date offer itself may not have been a problem, the arbitrator found when viewed in light of the other inappropriate behavior, this too rose to the level of an unwelcome sexual advance. Inappropriate interactions with other female teachers included: his asking one on a date in front of students; joking about the tightness of a female teachers pants in front of students; and stating another teacher “looked good in jeans” while standing in her personal space.
Ultimately, the remand arbitrator agreed with the board, and upheld the decision to terminate Ciripompa. In so holding, the arbitrator found the egregiousness of the conduct and the repeated nature of the violations in willful disregard of district policies warranted termination. NJSBA shall continue to monitor this case for any further appeals.
Note: As of the date of this SBN, the case has not been added to the New Jersey Department of Education website. However, the decision should be available shortly online.