Monday, October 27, 2008
Spanierman v. Hughes, ___F. Supp. 2d___ (D. Conn. Sept. 16, 2008), is an important Education Law as well as First Amendment case. A federal lower court held that a probationary teacher failed to show his constitutional rights were violated when his school did not renew his teaching contract after it received complaints of inappropriate contact with students via his MySpace page.
Interestingly the court found that the teacher was acting as a private citizen, but the adverse action being 5.5 months after the posting in question was too remote in time to establish a casual connection. Additionally, as the court stated the school was able to demonstrate that it would have taken the action in question anyway:
Moreover, even if the Plaintiff had established this causal
connection, the Defendants could still prevail by demonstrating
by a preponderance of the evidence that they would have taken
the same adverse action in the absence of the protected speech,
or that the Plaintiff’s speech was likely to disrupt school
activities, and the likely disruption was sufficient to outweigh
the First Amendment value of plaintiff’s speech. See Mandell,
316 F.3d at 382-83. In the court’s view, the Defendants would
have taken the same adverse action absent the existence of the
poem on the Plaintiff’s MySpace page. All the evidence
indicates that the action taken against the Plaintiff resulted
from his interactions with Emmett O’Brien students. There is no
indication that the poem in any way played a part in the
decision to not renew the Plaintiff’s employment contract.
In addition, the Defendants have submitted evidence
supporting the argument that the Plaintiff’s conduct on MySpace,
as a whole, was disruptive to school activities.
This decision is very lengthly (41 pages) and full of cites. A variety of other constitutional claims such as Equal Protection and Due Process were considered and rejected by the court. Researchers and lawyers may want to take a look at this case.
Mitchell H. Rubinstein