According to the Barrow County Superior Court, a former Georgia high school teacher can proceed with her lawsuit against the school district that fired her over Facebook photos.
Ashley Payne was an English teacher at Apalachee High in Winder, Georgia for two years until the fall of 2009, when the administration received an anonymous tip that Payne had photos on her private Facebook page in which she was holding a glass of wine in one hand and a glass of beer in the other. Payne’s photos were from her European summer vacation, which several other teachers also were on, and her privacy settings didn’t allow students to see the photos. In fact, Payne did not communicate with students through her page.
When the school district saw the photo as well as a posting on Payne’s page that used the word “b*tch,” administrators gave her a choice—let the state agency that reviews teaching credentials look into the Facebook behavior, which Principal David McGee told her wouldn’t go well for her, or just resign. But her decision had to be made immediately, according to Payne.
“[Principal McGee] told me that I needed to make a decision before I left, or he was going to go ahead and suspend me,” she said.
The school district maintains that its teachers are warned about “unacceptable online activities,” and that Payne’s Facebook page “promoted alcohol use” and “contained profanity.”
Payne counters, however, “[The photos are] not even of me drinking the drinks and I don’t look like I’m intoxicated in any way or doing anything provocative or inappropriate.”
Still, Payne chose to resign, but just a week later, started fighting to get her job back, feeling like she had been pushed into resignation. The school board refused to give her an administrative hearing on the issue or rehire her.
Although Judge David Motes ruled he can’t reinstate Payne to her former position (her original contract has since expired and the district was within its rights to not grant administrative review, according to the decision), he is allowing the lawsuit against the school district to proceed on the allegation that Payne was fired without due process, more specifically that her termination was the result of a compulsory resignation and that she is owed lost wages as well as legal fees.
Richard Storrs, Payne’s attorney, commented that the judge’s decision “doesn’t mean that [the school district isn’t] liable for a breach of contract with her,” and so the lawsuit continues.
What do you think of the school district’s position? Where do teachers’ private lives begin and end? As noted by Payne’s attorney, can a teacher have an alcoholic drink in public even if a student may happen upon him or her? What do you think?