Fired and allegedly defamed special ed teacher can sue school board author only in her private capacity
In Hicks v. Sheri Washington and Willow Run Community Schools, Hicks claimed that she was assaulted by the head of the local school board, Washington. Hicks, with a Doctorate in Education, was director of Special Ed. Washington operated behind the scenes to write a publish a website critical of certain school operations and personnel.
Hicks alleged that when she complained to police about Washington's assaultive behavior, Washington retaliated by placing a memo in her file accusing her of several forms of theft and dishonesty, and of hiring an investigator who attempted, unsuccessfuly, of proving the claims. Hicks also claimed that the school provided defamatory information to potential successor employers.
The trial judge refused to dismiss Hicks' claims summarily. The Court of Appeals reversed. It held that under Michigan Supreme Court precedent, there is no "malevolent heart" exception to governmental immunity: even if Washington or someone else deliberated defamed her in the process of governmental function, the defendants were immune from liability for their actions.
Noting that the website operated by Washington was not connected or sanctioned by the school (and that Washington originally denied being the actor behind the website), the Court of Appeals agreed with the lower court that Washington could be sued for defamation as a result of her "unsanctioned" statements on the private website.