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Teachers’ Retaliation Lawsuit Can Continue

(CN) -The former administrator of a Colorado charter school is not immune from prior restraint claims brought by a group of teachers who say she attempted to keep them from meeting and discussing school issues, the 10th Circuit ruled.

The Denver-based appellate panel also found that the teachers' retaliation claims against the Twin Peaks Charter Academy, in St. Vrain, Colo., can go forward.

The panel reversed in part a district court's finding in favor of Dr. Dorothy Marlatt and the academy.

Six former teachers sued Marlatt and Twin Peaks after they lost a show-down over their right to meet and talk about school issues.

Marlatt had warned the teachers "not to discuss school matters with anyone and expressed her preference they not meet together socially at all," according to the ruling, and gave each teacher a poor performance evaluation when they continued to do so.

In the spring of 1999, the teachers all resigned in protest, but during their two-week-notice period, Marlatt resigned. The teachers tried to rescind their resignations, but the governing board voted against them and refused to rehire those who submitted new applications.

The teachers sued and, after a remand, the district court found for the defendants on all claims.

The 10th Circuit disagreed in part, however, finding that Marlatt's directives were "broad enough to potentially stifle speech of public concern."

Judge Monroe McKay wrote that "Marlatt's broadly worded prohibitions covered more speech than necessary or permissible: Dr. Marlatt's legitimate interests in ensuring the efficient functioning of the school and deterring teachers from disclosing confidential student information did not justify a ban on the discussion of all school matters."

The panel further found that there is sufficient evidence that the governing board may have "decided to take the alleged retaliatory action" against the teachers when it refused to rehire them.

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