Bus Driver Says Facebook ‘Like’ Cost Her Job

     (CN) – A former school bus driver in Rome, Georgia claims in a lawsuit that she was fired for “liking” a status on Facebook.
     In a July 7 federal complaint, Julie Saxon says the Haralson County School District and superintendent Brett Stanton wrongly fired her for engaging in “protected expression of free speech.”
     Saxon says her termination occurred after she “liked” a Facebook post written by Johnny Cook, another bus driver in the district, in May 2013.
     In his post Cook criticized the school district for allegedly allowing a middle school student to go hungry by enforcing a policy of “forbidding a student from charging their lunch account on credit at the end of the school year.”
     “This child is already on reduced lunch and we can’t let him eat,” Cook’s status said. He went on to say that as a taxpayer, he would “rather feed a child than to give food stamps to a crack head.”
     Cook also posted his phone number, adding, “(T)he next time we can’t feed a kid for forty cent [sic], please call me. We will scrape up the money. This is what the world has come to.”
     Cook, who was fired after posting his remarks, sued the school district with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union. The parties eventually reached a settlement.
     According to the complaint, Saxon, who was employed by the school district for 11 years, “verbally and publicly expressed her support for Johnny Cook’s free speech rights and his effort to remedy Defendants’ violation of those rights, all the while exercising her own individual rights to speak out on the Haralson County School District’s school lunch policies.”
     Saxon was fired by Stanton, the superintendant, on Aug. 13, 2014.
     “Not coincidentally, Plaintiff was terminated from her employment within days of the settlement of the Johnny Cook lawsuit,” Saxon says.
     She claims the reasons for her dismissal were “pre-textual, as Plaintiff was an exemplary employee who had received above-average employment evaluations during her entire eleven-year tenure.” Saxon’s supervisor was “shocked” by her firing, as Saxon had just been promoted to a full-time employee.
     “Plaintiff’s termination was caused by the application of an unconstitutionally overbroad policy or regulation promulgated by the Defendant School District,” the complaint says.
     The decision to fire Saxon was made by Stanton in his role as superintendant in retaliation of her liking Cook’s Facebook post, the complaint says, violating her First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
     The complaint says Saxon should have been protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments because her opinions were expressed on her personal Facebook account on her personal computer, which “in no way arose from any duty or obligation of her employment; did not substantially interfere with the instructional environment of the school; and, was on a matter of public concern.”
     Saxon is asking the court to enjoin the school district and Stanton from enforcing a social networking policy and to change her employment record to reflect that her termination was unconstitutional. She is also seeking punitive damages.
     Saxon is represented by Douglasville-based attorney Michael C. Kendall.
     Representatives of the school district did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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