A term we are hearing a lot these days is “targeting,” as in “I feel I am being targeted by my principal.” This newish term is becoming more common. Usually, targeting describes a situation where a teacher or other educator feels they are being watched more closely or criticized more frequently than their peers, often because of some specific incident or conflict.
No law prohibits “targeting,” per se. The existing laws that address treating a person differently than others generally prohibit an employer, or a supervisor acting on behalf of an employer, from taking negative actions in one of two specific circumstances. The first is illegal discrimination, which is negative action taken because of a person’s race, nationality, religion, gender, age, disability, or sexual orientation. The law prohibits significant negative action (termination or demotion) motivated by one of these factors. There must, however, be proof that one of these factors was the “but for” cause of the negative action.
The law also prohibits retaliation for an employee’s exercise of a legally protected right. For example, a supervisor cannot take negative action because a teacher has filed a grievance or a discrimination complaint. But only very specific actions such as these are legally protected. There is no law prohibiting retaliation because of activities generally, such as simply having a conflict with a peer, supervisor, or parent.
Even when it is not illegal, targeting can feel unfair, and if it becomes severe enough, it could be considered a violation of the Educator’s Code of Ethics. Unfortunately, supervisors are generally given wide latitude in how to go about their supervisory duties. Supervisors generally have the right to observe as they deem appropriate, and this can translate into more frequent evaluation “walk-throughs” and documentation. It can be difficult to get a supervisor’s supervisor to demand a change to such behavior.
Because so many possible scenarios exist, there is no sound general advice on what a teacher or other staff member should do if they feel they are being targeted. It is important to seek advice based on the individual situation.
The legal information provided here is accurate as of the date of publication. It is provided here is for informative purposes only. Individual legal situations vary greatly, and readers needing individual legal advice should consult directly with an attorney. Eligible ATPE members may contact the ATPE Member Legal Services Department. May 2021.