Pamela J. Smith, Plaintiff-Appellant,
Columbus City Schools Board of Education, Defendant-Appellee.
from the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas No.
Cloppert, Latanick, Sauter & Washburn, William J. Steele
and Lora A. Molnar, for appellant.
T. Lillis, for appellee.
William J. Steele.
1} Appellant, Pamela J. Smith, appeals a decision of
the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas that affirmed a
resolution of the appellee, Columbus City Schools Board of
Education, terminating Smith's employment as a teacher.
For the following reasons, we affirm that decision.
Factual and Procedural Background
2} Since 2000, Smith worked as an elementary school
teacher at a variety of different schools in the Columbus
City School district. In 2015, she was teaching at Fairmoor
Elementary School. On April 23, 2015, she was in the
school's office area when she overheard a commotion in
the lobby near the school's front doors. Two second grade
students, referred to herein as Student A and Student B, were
yelling at each other. Karlynn Hornsburger, a kindergarten
assistant who was working in the school's office at the
time, heard the disturbance and went to address it. Michelle
Kulewicz, a general instructional assistant who was also
nearby, also heard the commotion and saw Hornsburger
attempting to settle the students down. As the disturbance
continued, Kulewicz joined Hornburger in an attempt to
de-escalate the situation. Kulewicz and Hornsburger took
positions back to back, each facing one student to separate
them from one another as Hornsburger attempted to move
Student B into another area of the lobby past a set of doors.
Hornsburger testified that they knew exactly what they were
doing. During this time, neither Kulewicz nor Hornsburger
were concerned that either of the second grade students posed
a serious physical threat to them. Kulewicz testified that
she knew by attempting to de-escalate the situation she could
get hit by Student A but, even if that occurred, it would not
really hurt her. Neither Kulewicz nor Hornsburger called for
any assistance to deal with the two students.
3} Upon hearing the disturbance, Smith also entered
the lobby. As Kulewicz was attempting to settle down Student
A, he was swinging his arms at her. Kulewicz tried to keep
her hands down to block Student A from swinging. As he swung,
Student A came close but did not hit Kulewicz. Smith,
however, thought she saw Student A hit Kulewicz. Smith
approached Student A yelling "[y]ou don't hit a
teacher." (Tr. Vol I at 11.) At this point, the versions
of events differ.
4} Kulewicz and Hornburger described how Smith then
picked up Student A by his shirt, lifting him up into the air
and against the wall. The student began to hit and swing at
Smith. She then pushed him down to the ground, where she
knelt over him with her knee on the student's chest.
Smith denied touching the student. Immediately following the
disturbance, Student A left the building. Kulewicz and
Hornsburger called Linda Willis, the school's principal,
to the lobby. Willis followed Student A out the door, trying
to get the student to stop. With assistance from the Columbus
Police Department, Willis was able to bring the student back
to the school.
5} As a result of this incident, a disciplinary
hearing was held. Following that hearing, appellee adopted a
resolution reflecting its intent to terminate Smith's
employment contract for good and just cause. The resolution
cited three grounds for the termination: (1) her interaction
with Student A; (2) her conduct upon learning that she was
being assigned to another work location pending the
investigation into the Student A incident; and (3) previous
disciplinary actions against her. Smith requested a hearing in
front of a referee. At that hearing, the witnesses testified
to the above versions of events. The referee submitted a
report and recommendation in which she found that Smith's
conduct was good and just cause for her termination and
recommended the termination of Smith's employment.
Specifically, the referee noted that "[i]n the current
situation, she stepped into a situation that was being
handled and exacerbated the situation and Student A's
behaviors. Instead of ...