PHILADELPHIA (CN) – The Third Circuit shot down claims from a Pennsylvania schoolteacher who was fired after blogging about “scornful feelings” for her students.
Central Bucks East High School in Doylestown, Pa., fired Natalie Monroe in 2012 after the woman’s blog, “Where are we going, and why are we in this handbasket?”, made national headlines.
One lengthy post from January 2010 included a litany of what she wished she could comment on her students’ report cards instead of the boilerplate “Cooperative in Class,” which she said she often chose because she found the process to be a “complete pain in the ass.”
Monroe wrote that she sometimes had such “scornful feelings” for her students that even putting “Cooperative in Class” felt unearned.
Among the comments Monroe said she felt like writing on the report cards were “Lazy asshole,” “Has no business being in Honors,” “Seems smarter than she actually is,” “Dunderhead,” and “Too smart for her own good.”
The blog, which generally did not focus on the students, named its author as Natalie M, and Monroe said it was never intended for public consumption.
She filed suit, alleging retaliation against her exercise of First Amendment rights, but U.S. District Judge Cynthia Rufe ruled for the school last summer, finding that Monroe’s comments were not protected and that the school lawfully fired her.
The Third Circuit affirmed 2-1 Friday, finding that Monroe’s comments were sufficiently disruptive to escape protection, and that the school district has a compelling interest to maintain an efficient workplace.
The maelstrom that Monroe’s blog posts set off among parents and students led one administrator to characterize the school as a “ticking time bomb.”
“Invective directed against the very persons that the governmental agency is meant to serve could be expected to have serious consequences for the performance of the speaker’s duties and the agency’s regular operations,” Judge Robert Cowen wrote for the majority.
Just as the First Amendment does not protect first responders from making racial insults at citizens, so too does it not shield Munroe, the court found.
In a passage of unusual censure, Judge Cowen wrote that a teacher acts somewhat like a daytime, surrogate parent for her students.
The trust between them is something that “Munroe’s various expressions of hostility and disgust against her students would disrupt,” Cowen added, calling her comments on the blog “despicable.”
In a dissenting opinion, Judge Thomas Ambro wrote that the case should have gone to trial instead of having been dispatched at summary judgment.
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