(CN) – A mortuary science student penalized for making Facebook posts about her “friendship” with a dead body does not have a free-speech case against the University of Minnesota, a state appeals court ruled.
Before she started working with cadavers in the mortuary science program, Amanda Tatro signed a disclosure form indicating that she would abide by the rules of the school’s anatomy-bequest program.
In late 2009, however, Tatro drew the school’s ire when she made Facebook posts about her favorite cadaver, Bernie, named after the deceased party host in the movie “Weekend at Bernie’s.”
“Amanda Beth Tatro gets to play, I mean dissect, Bernie today. Let’s see if I can have a lab void of reprimanding and having my scalpel taken away. Perhaps if I just hide it in my sleeve…,” she wrote.
Another post said: “Who knew embalming lab was so cathartic! I still want to stab a certain someone in the throat with a trocar, through. Hmm…perhaps I will spend the evening updating my “Death List #5″ and making friends with the crematory guy.”
Tatro later testified that the “certain someone” she had mentioned was a man who had broken up with her and had access to her Facebook posts.
Her final post on the subject read: “Bye bye, Bernie. Lock of hair in my pocket.”
The university sanctioned Tatro by failing her in her anatomy-laboratory class and making her enroll in a clinical ethics course. She also had to complete a psychiatric evaluation, write a letter to the faculty about respect, and be placed on academic probation until she graduates.
Tatro challenged the sanctions to the provost’s appeals committee, which found her posts were “disrespectful, unprofessional and reasonably interpreted as threatening.”
She found no success at the trial court level, where she argued that the university violated her free-speech rights. The Minnesota Court of Appeals also ruled in favor of the university, failing to be swayed by Tatro’s explanation of her “satirical” sense of humor.
“While Tatro’s arguments to this court may provide a context and explanation for the Facebook posts, they do not change the fact that the posts were reasonably viewed as threatening,” Judge Louise Dovre Bjorkman wrote on the court’s behalf.
“The posts were not private statements; they were visible to hundreds of Facebook users, including students in the mortuary-science program,” the 20-page decision states. “The context was not readily apparent, even to those who regularly associated with Tatro at the university.”