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Tuesday, June 18, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Woman Says Facebook Photos Led to Firing

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (CN) - West Virginia State University fired a woman after she posted photos on her Facebook page of minor trespassers who supposedly vandalized a historic glass home, she claims in court.

Sarah Halstead says she posted still pictures from a surveillance video of the trespassers in an attempt to identify them. They allegedly vandalized a glass home in Charleston, W.Va.

Halstead had been working on restoring the home as part of her job with the university, according to a lawsuit she filed Tuesday. She sued West Virginia State University, or WVSU, its research and development group, and four university employees in Kanawha County, W.Va.

She worked for the WVSU Research & Development Corporation and led an effort to make development plans for Top-O-Rock, "a unique and historic glass home and studio," according to the Jan. 5 lawsuit.

Top-O-Rock was vandalized in May 2015 and footage of trespassers was caught on surveillance cameras, the complaint states.

Halstead says she posted still photos of the trespassers to her personal Facebook page on May 14, 2015, in an effort to identify them. She was fired five days later, her lawsuit alleges.

The reasons for her termination included "publically making criminal accusations against minors which were not authorized by the university or the corporation," and not getting a press engagement approved, Halstead claims. The university allegedly said she created potential legal or liability issues.

"Plaintiff is a private citizen and as such has a right under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution to freedom of expression and speech," the 10-page lawsuit states. "Defendant, by its actions, retaliated against plaintiff for exercising her First Amendment right to free speech by wrongfully terminating her employment."

In addition to a violation of the First Amendment, Halstead alleges wrongful discharge, retaliation, breach of contract and conspiracy.

Halstead seeks an unspecified amount of compensatory and punitive damages. She is represented by Harry Bell, Jr. in Charleston.

The university did not immediately respond to a request for comment emailed Thursday afternoon.

WVSU is a historically black public university with just over 3,000 students, according to its website.

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