A local school corporation ordered a new dress code for teachers within its buildings. One particular teacher objected, making the issue as public as possible, so as to even try to take the issue to local radio stations. The teacher’s contract was not renewed when it was due for renegotiation. The teacher then sued, claiming that his non-renewal amounted to a firing on the basis of his protest of the school dress code. The school board cited two other incidents of improper behavior by the teacher, which constituted the reason for his non-renewal.
Whether a school board can defend its decision of dismissal by showing that other employment factors were sufficient to justify dismissal.
Yes, despite the first amendment claim, the firing was constitutionally acceptable. The court held that an employer will not be liable for a first amendment firing if they can show sufficient cause to fire on the basis of other employment related factors. The court stated that the burden is on the employee to demonstrate that the firing decision was substantially in response to a protected first amendment issue. Therefore, it is a legitimate defense for the employer to show that other factors besides the first amendment claim justified dismissal.