Court overturns verdict based on teacher's dismissal following complaints regarding handling of sexual assaults on female students
Beverly Garvin sued the Detroit Board of Education and several individuals. She claimed that she was terminated in response to her complaints about how her principal and other administrators handled the sexual assaults of two girls on the playground. After the incident was reported to Garvin and she reported it to the principal, she was a participant in a meeting with parents where she objected to the fact that police were never called, medical providers were not consulted, and the boys were not removed from the school. After the meeting, she refused to let the matter drop and wrote complaining letters to the Superintendent and also discussed related issues with parents and other students.
Eventually, Garvin was removed from classroom duties for "insubordination," transferred twice, and ultimately terminated from employment. She filed a lawsuit arguing that she was terminated for exercising her right of free speech and in retaliation for asserting the girls' civil rights. (She argued that the school's failure to respond appropriately to sexual assaults was denying the female students the proper use of the school facilities. The jury awarded her $750,000.00.The School appealed and the Court of Appeals overturned the verdict. It held that Garvin hadn't raised a legitimate retaliation claim, because her civil rights claim on the girls' behalf did not allege disparate treatment of boys and girls. We are not making this up. The Court went on to hold that while Garvin raised a legitimate First Amendment claim, due to procedural issues in the verdict form, there would need to be a new trial on that issue.
The Court went on to dismiss the school system because the Eleventh Amendment has been interpreted to preclude civil rights actions agaisnt states or municipalities. The Court also held that when the case is re-tried against the individual actors, Garvin's statements with an insubordinate attitude in the parent meeting, and her phone call with a parent, may not provide the basis for a First Amendment claim. Her reports to the Superintendent and her continuing objection to the adequacy of the school response may justify a finding of illegal retaliation.