I was reading an article in the Gwinnett Daily Post — yeah, that’s right, the GDP — and it starts out like this…
BUFORD — When Buford City Schools bus driver Michele Threlkeld finished her final route on the last day of school, she reported to her supervisor’s office, as was routine.
I love reading articles that start this way, because you know that fireworks and lawsuits are going to ensue. So, cue the fireworks and lawsuits…after the jump.
Our Ms. Threlkeld got a huge surprise when she spoke with her supervisor. She was fired.
The school informed informed Ms. Threlkeld that her position was eliminated. But, according to the GDP article, Ms. Threlkeld wasn’t buying it.
Threlkeld doesn’t believe she
lost her job because the school system eliminated her position. She said the district hired three new bus drivers at the beginning of the school year.
Instead, Threlkeld said she thinks she was fired in retaliation for posting a link to a Gwinnett Daily Post article
on her Facebook page six weeks prior. Threlkeld said she uses the
social networking site to stay in touch with family members, keep an eye on what her children are doing and post pictures of her family and,
occasionally, the news.
Now she’s suing the school system, Superintendent Geye Hamby and Brown for violating her First Amendment right to free speech.
Below is a copy of the Complaint that I sleuthed out.
What we have here is an action brought against a public employer and two of its employees under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (This kind of stuff would never fly against a private corporation). Ms. Threlkeld claims in the lawsuit that she was concerned about an artificial turf project the school was undertaking while, at the same time, it was laying off teachers and staff.
(Is it just me, or does this sound like the “Tami v. Dillon” episode from Season 3 of Friday Night Lights where the new school principal takes on the Boosters Club when she decides to reallocate Booster funds for a new Jumbotron to new books and academics. But I digress…)
So Ms. Threlkeld posted a link to the an article about the artificial turf controversy — an article from none other than the GDP — onto her Facebook profile with the description “today’s humor.”
Ms. Threlkeld claims in her Complaint that the artificial turf scandal is a matter of public concern and she was speaking out, via her Facebook page, as a citizen and not as an employee of the School District. And she claims that by speaking out via her Facebook page, she was engaged in conduct protected under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. So, according to Ms. Threlkeld, when the School District fired her, it did so as a way to retaliate against her for expressing her First Amendment free speech rights, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
And you know what? She may be right! I’m not aware of too many 42 U.S.C. § 1983 actions involving Facebook posts. However, a Florida court has held that a former Florida high school student who was suspended by her principal after she set up a Facebook page to criticize her teacher engaged in activity protected constitutionally under the First Amendment. I’ll be following the Threlkeld case closely.
In the meantime, here are some related links that you may find interesting: