PORTLAND — An independent arbitrator is expected to decide later this year whether a fired Portland High School custodian will get his job back.

Joseph Cormier claims the school department did not respect his rights to due process when he was fired Nov. 19.

School officials have said Cormier used too much force when he restrained a student in a hallway at the school. The student was involved in a confrontation with another Portland High student who is a son of Cormier’s.

Cormier was fired hours after the incident by Superintendent Jim Morse.

Cormier also was charged with misdemeanor assault, but prosecutors last month agreed to “file” the case, meaning that it will be dismissed in one year if Cormier pays $300 in court costs and attends an anger-management evaluation.

“Quite frankly we never felt they had enough facts to make a case for anything against Joe,” said his lawyer, Steven Schwartz of Portland.

“As far as we are concerned, Joe has been exonerated in the criminal justice system. The next step is to see what we can do to try to regain Joe’s reputation.”

Cormier has already lost his appeals to Morse and the School Committee. His last chance will be in front of an arbitrator. Schwartz and Melissa Hewey, the lawyer representing school officials, are working to agree on a date. The hearing will most likely be scheduled for this fall.

Hewey declined to comment on the case.

Morse, the superintendent who made the decision to fire Cormier, has said the custodian’s rights were respected. In some cases, reaching a decision to terminate an employee happens in a couple of hours, and in other cases it can take weeks or months, Morse said.

Schwartz said Cormier had worked for Portland schools for 17 years. He had been a wrestling coach and was a longtime member of the high school’s crisis-response team. On the day of the incident, Cormier was summoned by radio to a fight in progress.

“He saw one student who was restrained and the other who was not restrained,” Schwartz said. “Joe used a reasonable degree of force, which is allowed under the circumstances. He was seeking to prevent violence.”

 

Staff Writer Trevor Maxwell can be contacted at 791-6451 or at:

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