School District Comes to Settlement with Teacher in Free Speech Case

A lawsuit filed brought by a fired Wayne County, Ohio teacher has been settled in his favor, thereby avoiding a potentially long, embarrassing, and more expensive trial.  The teacher, Keith Allison was fired after expressing his support for vegan substitutes for milk on his personal Facebook page.  The school’s superintendent and principal met with Allison and warned him that Wayne County had a large agrarian presence, including dairy farmers, so he needed to be careful about his posts.

pictures-included-in-post-no-permissionPictures he included in his post were of the livestock of a local farmer, used without permission. When posting about a vegan lifestyle and providing a sort of indictment about cruelty to animals continued to happen, Allison was eventually fired.

The school district indicated that the lawsuit settlement payment was agreed to in order to avoid a lengthy and more expensive court battle.  Ken Calderone, the district attorney said that a court case could have been much larger than the agreed upon $17,500 settlement.  This amount was agreed upon as the amount of lost income Allison missed out on, and the contribution to his retirement plan.  As part of the agreement, Allison was required to apologize to the farmer whose cattle he took pictures of and posted on Facebook.

Allison was supported in his lawsuit by the ACLU of Ohio and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), who provided him with financial and legal assistance in bringing charges and ultimately pursuing the case for wrongful termination.  Calderone, speaking for the school district also said that the district had a policy regarding free speech outside of school, which this qualifies for since the post was made from home in the Summer. Allison will
use some of the settlement funds to give money to the ACLU and PETA, as agreed upon when they joined him in support.

school-district-policyAlthough not common, lawsuit settlement cases similar to this do occur from time-to-time regarding free speech rights and employers attempting to control that speech outside of the workplace.  In this case, the school district actually had a policy that indicated staff had free speech rights, as long as the speech was constitutional and didn’t cause an undue interruption at school.