New York School Teachers Have Rights to Free Speech

New York teachers’ rights attorneys recognize the importance of free speech to public educators. There are many issues that are important to teachers both in and out of their classrooms. Public school teachers have interests like all private citizens. Teachers also have strong opinions on workplace issues such as the implementation of the common core curriculum and the linking of standardized tests to performance evaluations.

Free Speech as a Teacher vs. the Teacher Acting as Private Citizen

As public employees, teachers do have some restrictions placed on them as to what they can say and when. But as private citizens, they enjoy the same rights to free speech as anyone else.

There is a fine line for teachers as to when they are acting in their capacity as an employee and when they are acting as a private citizen. Occasionally, a teacher is terminated for exercising his or her right to free speech. It is extremely complicated to determine if a specific termination is in retaliation for speaking out about or otherwise violates a teacher’s rights and is unlawful.

Navigating the Rules & Laws Related to Teachers and Teacher’s Rights

The experienced New York teachers’ rights attorneys at Leeds Brown understand the complex web of teacher tenure rules, education laws, and constitutional amendments that govern unlawful teacher retaliation and termination cases. We know that teachers do not give up their rights to free speech just because they work in public education.

If your employer terminated you in retaliation for exercising your First Amendment rights, contact New York teachers’ rights lawyers at Leeds Brown right away. Our attorneys take a team-based, hands-on approach to teacher tenure, wrongful termination, discrimination, and retaliation cases. We collaborate closely with our clients and vigorously advocate for the rights of New York teachers.

Leeds Brown has a proven track record of success and can help you obtain the fair outcome you deserve. You may be entitled to recover monetary compensation from your employer. Find out by calling New York teachers’ rights attorneys at 1-800-585-4658.

The First Amendment Right to Free Speech and The Government

The First Amendment to the Constitution states; “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

This limit applies only to the government. Since public school employees work for the government, they have some protection from retaliation for exercising some First Amendment rights. Private employees, however, do not have the same protection. The First Amendment does not prohibit a private employer from firing a worker because of something they say – although other laws might.

Protected Free Speech on Matters of Public Concern

The Supreme Court has ruled that public employees have protection if their speech is a matter of public concern.

A New York teacher must prove that his or her interest in openly speaking about “a matter of public concern outweighs the government’s interest in having an efficient workplace.” If so, the speech is protected. Government workers like public school teachers are often in the position to truly understand issues taking place – especially controversial ones like common core. There is a public policy reason to allow teachers and other public employees to speak up about these issues. They are in the unique position to share up-close perspective and encourage public debate about how to make changes.

Proving Retaliation Under the First Amendment

To prevail in a First Amendment retaliation case, a teacher must prove several things. The plaintiff must show that:

  • The plaintiff was engaging a constitutionally protected activity

  • The school district’s negative action caused the teacher to suffer an injury that would likely “chill” an ordinary person from engaging in the same activity

  • The teacher’s exercise of his or her constitutional rights partly motivated the adverse action

  • The teacher must also prove that his or her speech was a matter of public concern

  • The court must determine if the interest of the employee as a citizen to comment “on matters of public concern outweighs the employer’s interest in promoting the efficiency of the public services it performs through its employee.”

What is Speech of Public Concern?

Every New York First Amendment teacher retaliation case we see at Leeds Brown is different, and it is not possible to know if yours may be successful until we hear the specific facts of your situation. But the courts have made many rulings in teacher free speech matters that give some guidance as to what may constitute protected speech. The following may be considered matters of public concern:

  • Speech that criticizes government inefficiency or waste made not as a disgruntled employee, but as a concerned citizen

  • The allocation and distribution of district funds, and the administration’s ways of communicating with, or not communicating with, taxpayers regarding the real reasons why they were seeking additional tax revenues for schools

  • Testifying before the state legislature

  • An elementary school teacher who claimed the school board fired her for inviting actor Woody Harrelson to speak to her class about the environmental benefits of hemp

  • Statements about alleged racially discriminatory policies in a school district

  • A memo about the dress and appearance of a teacher that the school principal circulated to multiple teachers at a public school

The court has ruled that while acting as private citizens, teachers’ speech is protected. When public employees make statements during their official duties, they are not speaking as private citizens and are, therefore, subject to the restrictions set forth above. In essence, the boss can control what a worker says on the job, but not what an employee says on matters of public concern as a private citizen.

Contact Us if Your Rights Have Been Violated

New York teachers’ rights attorneys at Leeds Brown can help ensure that you obtain the remedy you deserve after your employer violates your First Amendment rights. At Leeds Brown, our attorneys can efficiently collect evidence and proceed with your claim in the manner that will give you the best chance of success. Proving a First Amendment case is difficult, and we can help you to do it properly and promptly.

Leeds Brown has been advocating for teachers’ rights for decades and has an intimate understanding of the complex nature of public education and employment law. It is essential that you have attorneys who are deeply familiar with both if you want to succeed with your First Amendment retaliation claim and secure the monetary damages to which you are entitled.

Contact the New York teachers’ rights lawyers at Leeds Brown today. Our attorneys are available to speak to you twenty-four hours a day so call now and secure your rights. 1-800-585-4658.