President Judge Fredric J. Ammerman heard arguments yesterday in the whistleblower lawsuit filed by a former Clearfield County Career & Technology Center employee against the vocational-technical school.
Franklin Walk of Clearfield is suing the school, claiming he was fired after he discovered alleged sexually explicit and inappropriate images on former Executive Director Elizabeth Frankhouser’s hard drive.
According to the lawsuit, Walk had been employed at the school since 2004 and was the school’s computer systems administrator. He was paid an annual salary of $47,500.
At some point in 2016, Frankhouser asked Walk to repair her school-owned computer. Walk removed the hard drive from the computer, installed a new one, and transferred all the data from the old drive to the new drive.
Walk then placed the old hard drive in an old parts bin in his office at the school. On March 19, Walk received information from other staff members at the school that Frankhouser was allegedly showing sexually explicit photographs to other staff members using a school-owned cell phone.
The Progress spoke to Walk following the hearing and he said the school issued Frankhouser a cell phone, iPad and computer.
In the lawsuit, Walk was concerned that there could be inappropriate material on the school’s computer system and to avoid placing sexually explicit material on the school’s computers, Walk took Frankhouser’s old hard drive home for examination.
At home, Walk discovered pictures that were allegedly not appropriate to be on a public school computer. Fearing repercussions for his own position, Walk anonymously delivered prints of the images to the chairperson of the Joint Operating Committee, which is comprised of a school board representative from each sending school at CCCTC.
As a result of providing those images, Walk said in the lawsuit that he believes Frankhouser’s computer was then confiscated, examined and these and possibly other images were found — and she was then urged by the JOC to resign immediately. Frankhouser resigned from her post in September 2017.
At first, Walk said he resisted admitting he was the whistleblower, fearing reprisals and repercussions.
But Walk was subsequently confronted and asked if this information was obtained as a result of his work, and he orally admitted that it was.
Walk was subsequently suspended and later terminated for removing school property from the school, according to a letter he received from the Fanello Willett Law Offices dated Sept. 27, 2017.
Walk is requesting back wages, payment for the missed pension during the period, fringe benefits and counsel fees.
CCCTC Attorney Jennifer Dambeck of Altoona said in their preliminary objections there are basically three prongs to their argument — Walk’s lawsuit does not provide sufficient evidence, details and specificity; the lawsuit fails to show any wrongdoing by CCCTC; and fails to show any causality between or that the CCCTC dismissed Walk as retaliation.
She also argued that the plaintiff does not have a right to a jury trial in this case and asked that this request be denied.
Walk’s attorney Andrew Carson disagreed and said taken in its entirety, the lawsuit does provide sufficient information. As for whether Walk is entitled to a jury trial hasn’t been decided yet by the state Supreme Court, and asked that it remain.
Trials can be decided either by a jury trial where the jury decides the case, or a bench trial where the presiding judge decides the case.
Judge Ammerman then asked to see the pictures that Walk had found and reported to the JOC. Carson warned Ammerman that there are sexually explicit images as well as pictures of children which could be “deemed as sexually explicit.”
Judge Ammerman shook his head as he leafed through the prints on the bench. When he got through about 75 percent of the of them he said, “That’s enough.” He then handed the pictures back to Carson.
Ammerman asked for copies of the briefs and said he would look over them. A decision is expected in a week or so.