Board of Education Acknowledges Employees’ Right of Free Speech
For Immediate Release:
April 14, 2015
Alexis Sadoti 202-483-7382
Smithville, Ohio – The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and the PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) Foundation have settled a lawsuit on behalf of teacher Keith Allison against the Board of Education of Green Local School District in Smithville, Ohio.
“We are pleased to have reached an agreement that upholds the First Amendment rights of public school teachers, such as Keith Allison,” said Joseph Mead, an ACLU cooperating attorney representing Allison. “The settlement vindicates Keith for his Facebook post and affirms the school district’s obligation to permit its employees to freely express their opinions on community concerns outside of work.”
At its Monday meeting, the board of education approved a statement in which it acknowledged its employees’ right to speak out on matters of public concern. Additionally, the board agreed to a financial settlement to compensate the plaintiff for back salary and pension contributions, pay out-of-pocket expenses to the ACLU and the PETA Foundation, and cover attorney fees.
Allison was removed as a Title I tutor at Green Elementary School by the school district in August 2014 for sharing his personal beliefs about the treatment of animals on dairy farms on his Facebook page from his home computer. In December, the ACLU sent a letter to the Green Local Board of Education reminding the school district that teachers have a First Amendment right to engage in free speech, and to reinstate Allison to his former position with back pay. Although Allison was hired the following month for a position at the school district’s middle school, the board had refused to modify its position on Allison’s exercise of free speech and also refused to pay him for all of the months that it had deprived him of his salary. In early March, the ACLU and the PETA Foundation filed a complaint in federal court.
“Everyone has the right to speak out against the cruelty of an industry that treats mother cows like milk machines,” said Gabriel Walters, counsel for the PETA Foundation. “PETA works with educators across the country who encourage kids to be kind to animals, both in the classroom and in their personal lives.”