My recent posts in the “Favorite Firing” series have dealt with poor management decisions leading to terminations that are difficult to defend. (See here and here.) But “favorite firings” also arise when employees engage in behavior that leads to the immediate reaction “What was he (or she) thinking?” Today’s case is one of those.
In Craig v. Rich Township High School District 227 (7th Cir. 2013), a high school guidance counselor and coach published a book entitled It’s Her Fault, in which he wrote about his own sexual exploits and argued that women should be submissive and should use sex to get power in relationships.
Not surprisingly, the School District did not look favorably on this book by a man who provided guidance counseling services to students of both genders and coached young female basketball players. They fired Mr. Craig. He sued, claiming that he was fired in retaliation for publishing this book in violation of his First Amendment right of free speech. Thankfully, he lost his case, when first the trial court and then the Seventh Circuit dismissed his claims.
The Facts: Because the case was dismissed out of hand, there were no factual disputes. Mr. Craig published a book that was sexually explicit. According to the Seventh Circuit, the book repeatedly discussed sexually provocative themes and used sexually explicit terminology. Not only was it explicit in describing sexual anatomy and recommending certain practices, it also advocated that women should be submissive to men and should paradoxically use sex to secure power in relationships.
Furthermore, Mr. Craig admitted in his book that he objectified women in his own relationships, while stating that women were too emotional and unable to develop strong relationships. What young woman who read of these opinions by Mr. Craig—or of his “weakness for cleavage”—would want him as her guidance counselor or coach? Too icky.
The School District admittedly fired him because of the book and because they believed he was not an appropriate counselor for high-school children. The charges against Mr. Craig included that:
(1) the publication of Craig’s book “ha[d] caused disruption, concern, distrust and confusion among members of the School District community;” (2) Craig violated the School Board’s Policy “prohibit[ing] conduct that creates ‘an intimidating, hostile, or offensive educational environment;” and (3) “Craig failed to present [himself as] a positive role model and failed to properly comport himself in accordance with his professional obligations as a public teacher.
Mr. Craig claimed that his book was protected by First Amendment rights and that the School District had fired him wrongfully.
The Moral: The trial court dismissed the case, stating that Mr. Craig’s book was not a matter of public concern, and therefore was not protected by the First Amendment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal, but used different reasoning. The Seventh Circuit said that the book was of public concern, because it dealt with “adult relationship dynamics.”
However, the Seventh Circuit agreed with the result in the trial court, holding that the School District had the right to fire Mr. Craig because of its interest in providing educational and counseling services in an unintimidating and non-sexualized atmosphere. Mr. Craig’s authoring and publishing of his book prevented him from teaching and counseling in the non-threatening environment the school wanted to create.
At the heart of the Seventh Circuit’s opinion is the language:
The school district reasonably predicted that “It’s Her Fault” would disrupt the learning environment at Craig’s school because some students, both female and male, who learned of the book’s hypersexualized content would be reluctant to seek out Craig’s advice.
It is a relief to find that the Seventh Circuit upheld the School District’s right to set the tone of its educational environment. In truth, the holding of the Seventh Circuit was stronger than the lower court’s holding. The lower court based its ruling on the specifics of Mr. Craig’s book, while the Seventh Circuit affirmed the School District’s ability to prescribe how its students are taught.
The Seventh Circuit did place limits on the School District. The court stated that it was balancing the School District’s interest in offering public education and counseling services in a non-sexual climate against Mr. Craig’s right to express himself. I would hope, however, that in future cases, school districts would be given broad abilities to structure their educational environments in ways they think most conducive to learning.
For another commentary on this case, see Paul Porvaznik’s article, 7th Circuit Dismisses Guidance Counselor’s First Amendment Suit Involving Tawdry Relationship Book (the ‘actually, please DO quit your day job’ post).
For a complete list of my “Favorite Firing” posts, click here.
What do you think of the Seventh Circuit’s opinion in this case?