False accusations of misconduct fuel the nightmares of grade school teachers, given the litigiousness and bureaucracy of the schoolhouse.
But one former Catholic school teacher in California has achieved what his attorney called "complete vindication" against a cabal of Mean Girls-style student accusers, and their parents: a civil court judgment of $362,653 in compensatory damages after a jury found the families had spread false statements about him that damaged his reputation.
John Fischler, 49, a former physical education teacher at Holy Spirit school in Almaden Valley faced accusations of inappropriately touching 10- and 11-year-old girls and peeking in a girls' bathroom, the San Jose Mercury News reported. After school officials cleared him of misconduct, Fischler sued the students and the parents for defamation, claiming that the persistent rumor-mongering by their families had tainted his teaching career and prevented him from returning to the classroom.
In one of the accusations, an 11-year-old girl said Fischler touched her buttocks in 2009 while teaching squat thrusts. Fischler denied having touched the girl's rear but admitted to touching her hips to correct her form. He was admonished for violating a "no-touching" rule but cleared of misconduct. The sister of the girl, in a group with other students, later accused him of leering into a girls bathroom, a charge that police later determined was unfounded. Fischler had been forced to enter after the sound of shrieking disrupted a nearby class down the hall. Police later found that the girls had been trying deliberately to get them fired, with one of them coercing others into the false accusation.
The children's parents were described in court documents as "classic parent bullies" with one popular girl having a "gang-leader-like personality," the Mercury News reported.
Strikingly, the demeanor of this "ringleader" child appears to have had a significantly negative effect on the jury, the Mercury News reported. The now-14-year-old girl "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," which may have alienated the jury, the paper reported.