Philadelphia Employment Law News

Blogging Teacher Fired, Claims She Was 'Set Up'

Blogging, it's the thing to do on the Internet. You can share projects you do, hobbies, recipes, or gripe about the world in general. You could describe it as a sounding board to strangers who give you feedback on your thoughts, or possibly a way to communicate with a group of people. Whatever your reason for blogging, realize that unless you restrict your readers to those with a password, anyone can find and read it.

This is what happened to the blogging teacher, a Central Bucks English teacher, Natalie Munroe, who was fired by the Bucks County school board for her blog, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Munroe's blog was criticized for her statements about students being "frightfully dim" and "utterly loathsome." These statements led to Munroe being suspended, then reinstated with small classes and administrative evaluations. Now Munroe claims that she was wrongfully terminated for exercising her First Amendment right to free speech.

One thing about the First Amendment, and all constitutional protections, is that they only apply to actions taken by national or local government. This means that if your neighbor tells you to shut up while at their house, the response "I've got a right to free speech" is not really going to hold up.

Generally under the First Amendment, a government employee (like a teacher) cannot be fired for using protected speech. However, the U.S. Supreme Court has clearly stated that this right is not all-encompassing; clarifying that there is a right to free speech, but not a right to government employment.

With all constitutional issues, there is no clear cut way to decide what is protected and what is not. One guideline is if the speech is about political, social, or issues concerning the community that it deserves more protection. Once the level of "public concern" in the speech is determined, the state's interest is balanced against it. Courts have defined the state's interest in employment as concerning workplace efficiency, harmony, and the satisfactory performance of the employee's duties.

Here, Munroe probably has a good claim for wrongful termination, especially in Pennsylvania, where the wrongful termination law allows for a suit based on termination in violation of public policy. If her statements were comments on the issue of public education in general, they would likely be more protected than pure griping about students. These statements would probably outweigh any employer concerns as they had not been directed to anyone specific or to a specific location.

There is an argument that once the blog was discovered it had the ability to affect workplace harmony. However, this argument could be countered by the fact that Munroe did not make comments about the administration or fellow teachers, even though those would probably be of public concern also.

There are many issues to discuss in the case of the blogging teacher, so come back tomorrow to read about the contract issues, and the retaliation claim.

Related Resources: