Former teacher says Facebook post on mask mandates cost her job, files lawsuit
MONCKS CORNER, S.C. (WCSC) - A former Berkeley County school teacher says she was forced to resign after posting a video about mask requirements on social media.
Holly Chapman says in a lawsuit against the Berkeley County School District and its former superintendent, Eddie Ingram, that she was given the option to resign immediately or be fired after she “expressed her political frustrations with perceived government intrusion with respect to COVID mask mandates and protocols.”
The lawsuit alleges that the middle school teacher, who was hired by the district in August 2015, never received any disciplinary action during her employment and that her evaluations by the district reflect that she “met or exceeded job expectations.”
The suit states the district’s 2018 social media policy acknowledges that public employees “maintain their First Amendment rights to comment on matters of public interest.”
Chapman’s suit states she posted the Facebook video in December 2020, but that she was not friends with or followed by her students on Facebook. Further, she said her account is under a pseudonym and not her “teacher name.”
The suit states she made “a sexual innuendo” in her speech as “an analogy to government overreach, but the innuendo was not objectively explicit or obscene.”
Lawsuit: Other teachers’ social media posts went unpunished
Chapman’s suit states, however, that prior to her post, other teachers in the district, including peers at Chapman’s school also engaged in posting “sexual innuendo and speech of a sexual nature on social media.” That included, the suit states, a teacher at Chapman’s school who is a stand-up comedian who posted “raunchy comedy on her own Tik-Tok account in her name despite being followed by students on that platform.”
Those fellow teachers, the suit alleges, were not disciplined.
“Plaintiff’s speech was less sexual in nature than that of her comedian peer, but contained a political message objecting to governmental interference in personal matters,” the suit states, noting her speech’s political nature as the key difference.
Student posted portion of video on Snapchat, leading to meeting
Sometime around January, a student at Chapman’s school apparently found the video and posted a portion of it on the Snapchat platform, the suit states.
She says she learned of that reposting in mid-February 2021, and within days, she was called to a meeting with her principal and the district’s human resources officer and questioned about the video.
The suit states she was asked to prepare a statement, but that her first draft was “deemed insufficient,” and that she was asked to write a follow-up statement “explicitly describing the content of her speech.”
Two days later, on Feb. 19, she was called to another meeting with the principal and district human resources director in which she was given the option to either resign immediately or be fired, the suit states.
Chapman states she asked to speak to a lawyer prior to signing any documents, “but was told she would not be allowed additional time and needed to decide right then to be fired or resign.”
Chapman’s lawsuit alleges Ingram notified her on March 18 the district would file charges against her with the South Carolina Board of Education for “a separation of employment arising from alleged misconduct.”
“Ultimately, The State Board of Education (effective June 30, 2021) declined to prosecute any charges against Plaintiff’s license because her speech outside of work on a matter of public concern was protected by the First Amendment,” the suit states.
On March 19, she signed a letter of intent from the Charleston County School District after interviewing for a teaching position there, but that the Charleston County School District then notified her on May 4 that it would not move forward with the hiring process because of “concerns in her file,” the suit states.
“Internal emails from CCSD dated April 30, 2021, and May 4, 2021, indicated that [Chapman] would have received the position she was seeking at CCSD but for the reference from the [Berkeley County School District], related to [Chapman’s] political speech,” the suit states.
Chapman alleges wrongful termination and tortious interference with a contract against the Berkeley County School District and malicious prosecution against Ingram. Her suit seeks damages that include a $187,000 loss of public service loan forgiveness, attorney fees, costs, and other damages and a jury trial.
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