Court: No First Amendment Protection for Teacher’s Blog

According to a report in the Philadelphia Inquirer, a federal Court has ruled that a Pennsylvania School District did not violate the free speech rights of a teacher when it took adverse action against her for comments made on a personal blog.

Natalie Munroe, a teacher in the Central Bucks School District, maintained a personal blog on which she referred to her students as “frightfully dim,” “utterly loathsome,” and “whiny.”  Although she didn’t mention any students by name and even tried to take steps to write anonymously, the District discovered the posts in 2012 and disciplined her.  She sued the District, claiming that she had a first amendment right to the speech since it was done outside of work.

The federal court disagreed with Ms. Munroe, acknowledging that although public employees do have some free speech protection, the protection is not unlimited.  Although there have only been a handful of cases like this, involving public employee speech online, Courts have addressed free speech issues like this for several decades, making clear that public employers do not violate the Constitutional free speech rights of employees by disciplining them for speech that is not on a matter of public concern.  Here, the Court pointed out that criticizing students online is so disruptive, and of such little value to public discourse, that the District’s action cannot be said to violate any free speech rights.

An appeal was promised by the teacher, but that will be a very uphill battle for her.  As should be intuitive, public employees should be careful about what they post online, while public employers should consult counsel before acting with respect to employee social media activity.

Posted by / August 4, 2014 / 0 Comments
Posted in
Labor and Employment Law, Municipal Law, School Law
Patrick Fanelli

Patrick Fanelli

Mr. Fanelli is a founding partner of Fanelli Willett Law Offices, one of Blair County's newest law firms. Patrick focuses his practice on helping public and private employers navigate the increasingly regulated landscape of labor and employment law, while also serving as a respected school lawyer on behalf of various Pennsylvania school districts and other public entities, which turn to him for assistance in the collective bargaining process or as a general solicitor. Read More about Attorney Fanelli

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