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California teacher: Anti-Semitic talk shouldn't cost me my job

Can your government-based employer fire you because you decided to express your opinion? One California woman does not think so, and she is taking one of the nation's largest school districts to court to protest her termination.

The 60-year-old substitute schoolteacher is suing to get her job back after a series of anti-Semitic comments that appeared on a local news broadcast. The woman, who had taken part in several Occupy L.A. rallies, has filed a wrongful termination claim, saying that her right to free speech has been ignored by school officials.

The woman was approached for an interview by a local news service while she was employed by a California school district. The woman had said that she was attending the rally because of her dislike for "Zionist Jews," whom she accused of controlling big banks and federal lending institutions for their own gain.

The suit claims that the woman was fired because the interview went viral on YouTube and noticed that several comments from area residents urging the district to terminate her employment. Others called on viewers to contact the school district and insist that the woman was unfit to teach. The woman was fired last fall, according to court documents.

The woman is now seeking reinstatement to her job from a judge because of the alleged First Amendment rights violations. She is also seeking punitive damages for the wrongful termination in connection with the incident, arguing that the district breached an implied contract, prompted emotional distress and ended her employment in bad faith.

She is represented by a non-profit organization called The Rutherford Institute, a group that intends to protect religious liberties.

This specific case certainly includes some very emotional and controversial issues, but it raises big questions for the First Amendment questions for employees. For example, if a low-level bank employee was interviewed at a protest and they expressed concerns about abuses by mortgage lenders, would their employment be protected by their right to free speech?

These are the kind of questions that employees and employers must begin to ask and clarify, especially in the age of digital media. Since anyone can publish content to the Internet, personal views and opinions can easily be distributed and identified.

Source: Courthouse News Service, "Teacher wants her job back after anti-Semitic comments," Matt Reynolds, May 17, 2012

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