Appeals Court Upholds Teacher’s Firing for Viewing Pornography

Tom Hymes
CEDARBURG, Wisc. — The firing of a high school teacher for viewing a pornographic website at school for 67 seconds on a Sunday was upheld by a state court of Appeals.

Robert Zellner, an 11-year teacher at Cedarburg High School and onetime president of the Cedarburg teachers union, was fired in January 2006 by the school board.

After Zellner appealed his firing, an arbitrator ruled that he should have been disciplined rather than fired and ordered the school to rehire him, but the board refused. Zellner sued, and his firing was upheld by a district court.

Jina Jonen, an attorney for the Wisconsin state teachers union, expressed disappointment with the opinion, which she said could lead to more instances of binding arbitration rulings being overturned.

"The ruling opens the door as to whether courts are going to start reviewing arbitrator's findings, and that's contrary to Wisconsin law," she said. The decision whether or not to appeal the decision to the state supreme court was being considered, she added.

Jonen has 30 days to file an intent to appeal. The appeals court had previously asked the state supreme court to take the case, but the court declined and directed the appeals court to issue a ruling.

The three-judge panel that issued the ruling Wednesday said that Zellner's behavior had been immoral. The "protection of children and the promotion of a safe education environment is a clear and compelling public policy," the appeals judge wrote.

According to Milwaukee lawyer Steven Rynecki, who represents the Cedarburg School District, the ruling will improve education throughout Wisconsin “because people are going to be, hopefully, deterred from accessing pornography in the schools.”