Teacher’s Termination for Posting “Repulsive” Comments to Facebook Overturned
A Manhattan court ruled that a teacher who posted comments to Facebook should not have had her employment terminated, since such a punishment “shocks one’s sense of fairness” and is “inconsistent with the spirit of the First Amendment.” The tenured teacher in this case, Matter of Rubino v. City of New York, posted a comment to Facebook after hearing news that a New York City student drowned during a field trip to the beach, in which she wrote “after today, I’m thinking the beach sounds like a wonderful idea for my 5th graders! I HATE THEIR GUTS! They are all the devils (sic) spawn!” After a friend commented on her post, “oh you would let little Kwame float away!”, the petitioner responded “Yes, I wld (sic) not throw a life jacket in for a million!!”
After a concerned colleague viewed these posts, that colleague contacted the teacher’s school administration, which launched a formal investigation. The teacher admitted to posting those comments to Facebook and expressed regret for doing so. The investigation and subsequent hearing culminated in the termination of her employment.
However, in reviewing the teacher’s appeal from the hearing, Judge Jaffe ruled that while the decision to terminate her employment was neither arbitrary nor capricious, the punishment was disproportionate to the harm committed. Characterizing the teacher’s posts as “repulsive,” the court viewed this as an “isolated incident of intemperance,” and not as evidence of a pattern of conduct, instead focusing on the ease by which people may post to Facebook without regard to the privacy of those communications.
In overturning the termination and remanding for the imposition of a lesser penalty, the court wrote, “[w]hile students must learn to take responsibility for their actions, they should also know that sometimes there are second chances and that compassion is a quality rightly valued in our society.”