Glendale Community College has been cleared of liability in a former professor’s investment plans that allegedly defrauded students out of thousands of dollars.
A state appeals court ruled that the students should have known that the investment plans of former business Prof. Cecil Abernathy were not connected to his teaching at the college and not condoned by the school. The unanimous decision of the 2nd District Court of Appeal was handed down in Los Angeles earlier this month.
The students claimed that Abernathy used classroom time to induce them to invest in his private real estate businesses, promising in some cases to double their money in two years.
Charging that Abernathy had bilked them out of a total of $12,500 from 1981 to 1983, four students sued Abernathy, the college and John Davitt, a former dean who is now acting president of the college, seeking restitution and punitive damages. The students contended that Davitt and the college knew of Abernathy’s activities and should have stopped him.
Abernathy taught an investment class at the college and left the school in September, 1984, after 13 years there. He has not been charged with any crime. The students’ civil action against Abernathy cannot proceed because Abernathy filed to liquidate under Chapter 7 of the U. S. Bankruptcy Code in January, 1985, according to the students’ attorney.
A recent letter to the college from a Abernathy’s lawyer, Larry Minsky of Long Beach, indicated the former teacher is seeking a job in Tennessee. Minsky declined to discuss the case or Abernathy’s whereabouts.
Last year, a Superior Court judge in Glendale ruled that the college was not responsible for the students’ financial losses. They appealed, resulting in the latest decision. Their lawyer, Gloria Allred, says she will take the case to the state Supreme Court. She called the appellate ruling “a travesty of justice.”
“We think the school should be responsible for the foreseeable misconduct by one of its teachers when that arises out of classroom activities,” Allred said. “The risk of loss should fall on the school district, rather than on these innocent students.”
Allred had argued that the doctrine of “in loco parentis,” whereby colleges act as parents for students, should apply. The appellate court disagreed, saying that doctrine does not apply for students over 18.
“Students, and particularly adult students, are recognized as being more mature and independent today than in the past and have shown a great inclination and determination to think for themselves,” the three-member court wrote in its decision.
The case has spurred the college faculty to work on adopting a code of ethics.