Several 11-year-old girls at a San Jose Catholic school said their P.E. teacher touched a student and peeked into the girls’ restroom. School officials and the police cleared John Fischler of misconduct. Students and their parents called him a “perv” and a “creeper.” He quit his job and sued three girls and their four parents for defamation.
This week, a civil jury awarded $362,653 in compensatory damages to the former teacher, reports the San Jose Mercury News. The jury also found that one of the girls — then 11 and now 14 — acted with malice and is liable for punitive damages. The trial’s second phase starts tomorrow.
The lawsuit charged that “classic parent bullies” and their daughters, including a popular girl described as having a “gang-leader-like personality,” conspired to get Fischler fired.
The jury found the former teacher, who’s now 49, was only 10 percent responsible for the harm he endured.
They came down hardest on the “ringleader” student and the mother of the other two girls.
The demeanor of the “ringleader,” now 14, appeared to have alienated the jury. She giggled often while testifying, and twice got off the witness stand, stood in front of the jury box and demonstrated a dance move and chant a school cheer. The jurors sat grim-faced without smiling.
An earlier story makes it clear why the jury found defamation.
In fall 2009, one of the girls said Fischler touched her buttocks while teaching the class to do squats. However, the other children did not corroborate the girl’s account.
. . . In December 2010, Fischler knocked on the door of the girls’ bathroom, which served as a quasi-locker-room. He was drawn to the sound of shrieking inside because the noise was disrupting a nearby class. Some of the girls were changing clothes, and a few of them claimed Fischler poked his head in and stared at them.
The school reported the incident to police, and Fischler was put on paid leave for alleged sexual misconduct. An independent investigator cleared Fischler after finding the ringleader of the accusers acted out of an “angry, childish grievance” and persuaded other girls to go along with the restroom accusations.
One girl testified the ringleader had pressured her into backing the false accusation.
There’s a risk the verdict will have a chilling effect on students who really do have an abusive teacher. But I can’t help cheering that Fischler fought back against the “mean girl” and won.