DES MOINES, Iowa - A schoolteacher who was forced to resign after being videotaped having sex with a colleague in a classroom closet said the encounters were on his personal time and he was entitled to collect unemployment benefits.
An Iowa judge has ruled otherwise and denied the teacher benefits, citing his "willful" workplace misconduct. The ruling became public earlier this year.
Columbus Community School District Superintendent Marlene Johnson told The Des Moines Register this week that she can't discuss the matter or confirm that it ever happened.
But public records outline why high school science teacher Robert L. Brown of West Branch resigned from his job with the Columbus Community School District in November 2012 - and Brown's explanation for what happened.
Officials at the school, located near Columbus Junction in Louisa County, first heard students at the high school gossiping about Brown during the 2011-12 school year, according to public records. The gossip concerned a personal relationship Brown supposedly had established with a female staff member at the school.
At a public hearing dealing with Brown's request for unemployment benefits held earlier this year, Superintendent Johnson testified that Brown was asked about the rumors. She said the school principal expressed concern that Brown and the female worker had become too close, but Brown allegedly assured the principal that he and his colleague were just friends.
At the start of the 2012 academic year, Johnson testified, school officials heard more rumors that the two were engaged in an inappropriate relationship.
"Students knew what they were doing and were taking about it," the superintendent testified. "People were complaining, you know, that he would cover his (classroom) window up at the noon hour and then those two would be in there together and then they would come out. ...
"We had complaints there was a student in the classroom one time and those two had gone into the closet. ... When they go into the closet and make noises and then come out there is kind of an assumption of what is going on."
Johnson said she had surveillance cameras placed in various locations around the school, including one inside the classroom closet.
She said the resulting video showed Brown and the female colleague entering the closet at two separate times over the course of a single school day - once during the lunch period and once shortly after classes ended for the day.
"It shows their faces, it shows them taking their clothes off, it shows them having sex, it shows, you know, everything," Johnson testified. "The video is now at our lawyer's being stored because I didn't want it on campus."
Johnson testified she showed the video to Brown, gave him the option of resigning or being fired, and he chose to resign. She didn't say what action, if any, was taken against the woman.
Brown subsequently filed a request for unemployment benefits, which the district challenged. At a hearing earlier this year, Brown defended his actions, saying the sexual encounters took place at lunch time and after class - on his own time - and should not be considered workplace misconduct.
When asked why he didn't disclose the relationship to the school principal, Brown testified, "I did not feel that it was his business."
Brown's attorney, Gerald Hammond of the Iowa State Education Association, told Administrative Law Judge Lynette Donner that at no time did Brown neglect his teaching duties or ignore his contractual obligations to the district.
Donner ruled against Brown, stating that his decision to have sex in the building, "particularly after being advised that a perceived relationship could be a problem, shows a willful or wanton disregard of the standard of behavior the employer has the right to expect from an employee."
Brown declined to comment on the matter when contacted by The Des Moines Register, but said he is not currently employed by any other school district.
Johnson said in a telephone interview she could not answer questions about the matter.
"I'm not going to say there was a video or there wasn't a video, or if that happened or didn't happen," she said. "I'm just trying to protect my school district."
It's not clear whether Brown's conduct was reported by the district to the Iowa Board of Educational Examiners, which polices the state's teaching profession. Complaints to the board are not treated as public information unless, and until, they result in charges from the board.
There are no such charges pending against Brown at this time.
Under Iowa law, the school district was not required to report his misconduct.
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