Natalie Munroe, a Philadelphia-area teacher, was suspended last week after her school learned that Munroe had blogged that she wished she could tell students, among other things, that they were “rude, beligerent, argumentative, and utterly loathsome in all imaginative ways.”
Ms. Munroe has since lawyered up, still blogs, and is now gaining national headlines. More on this developing story and the impact it could have on her employer, after the jump.
Christina Kristofic of the Bucks County Courier Times reports that Ms. Munroe is back on her blog:
“While I never in a million years would have guessed that this many people would ever see my words, and I didn’t even intend them to, I stand by what I wrote and I think it’s good that people are aware now,” Natalie Munroe wrote on her blog Saturday morning.
“There are serious problems with our education system today – with the way that schools and school district and students and parents take teachers who enter the education field full of life and hope and a desire to change the world and positively impact kids, and beat the life out of them and villainize them and blame them for everything – and those need to be brought to light. If this ‘scandal’ opens the door for that conversation, so be it. Let that conversation begin. Stay tuned here.”
Does Ms. Munroe have a cause of action against the school?
Compare Ms. Munroe’s most recent post to the blog post that got her into trouble. It appears as if Ms. Munroe is setting up a First Amendment civil rights claim. To recover under a First Amendment federal civil rights claim, Munroe will have to prove that she was deprived of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States and the deprivation was done under color of state law.
In an interview this morning on Good Morning America, Ms. Munroe’s attorney, Steven Rovner, suggested that this is a free speech case.
But will Ms. Munroe succeed?
Let’s be clear. I am no First Amendment expert. And there is a lot that has to play out before Ms. Munroe’s potential legal claims crystalize. Still, IMH (non-legal-advice-giving) O, the First Amendment retaliation theory has some surface appeal. Whereas Ms. Munroe has described her first blog post as mere tongue-in-cheek venting about her students, the second blog post appears to be directed to a much larger audience and addresses “the serious problems with our education system.” If the school bases disciplinary action against Ms. Munroe on her second post, maybe there is something here.
If the school acts on the second post, Ms. Munroe may also have a claim under the National Labor Relations Act if — big if — she can establish that she is engaged in protected concerted activity.
However, in either case, the school has yet to act based on the second post. Presumably, if Ms. Munroe is fired, it will be solely because of the first post. Further, notwithstanding that Ms. Munroe describes her first post as mere venting (versus getting on her soapbox about social issues of public interest), she admits that the first post was not intended for public consumption. She only meant to share it with a few friends. Moreover, she only identifies herself in the post by a first name and last initial (although she does include a picture of herself). Not much bite to a First Amendment claim where the speaker clearly didn’t intend to speak out. And, as she was speaking by herself and not as a way to improve working conditions, its hard to see how Ms. Munroe’s first post constitutes protected concerted activity.
Win or lose, lawsuit or not, I will be watching how this one plays out.