Teacher's Blog May Not Be Free Speech

In a case out of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Richerson v. Beckon it was found that a teacher's blog entries were not protected speech and that the employee could be demoted for the same. In Richerson, a teacher was assigned to a position in which she served a mentor to others and was to provide less experienced teachers "honest, critical, and private feedback."  The teacher maintained a blog in which she made "several highly personal and vituperative" comments about her employers, union representatives, and fellow teachers.  While her blog did not identify these people, it was clear who they were from the description given in the blog.  The teacher was demoted and filed suit claiming violation of her right to free speech. 

The Court explained in the unpublished opinion that a public employee's speech, in order to be protected, must touch on a matter of public concern.  The Court further explained that the speech is not protected when (1) it disrupts co-worker relationships, (2) interfered with the speakers performance of her or his duties, and (3) eroded a close working relationship based upon personal loyalty and confidentiality.  Thus, the Court found this blog was not protected speech.

The case raises some interesting questions about other electronic postings, such as a Facebook or Twitter and whether those types of communications may also subject, under certain conditions, an employee to discipline. 

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