Gilbertson v. McAlister
United States District Court, D. Connecticut.
November 4, 1975.
Background:
Mary Gilbertson, a former tenured English teacher at Weaver High School in Hartford, seeks injunctive relief, reinstatement, back pay and damages against the defendants who include most of the elected members of the Hartford Board of Education, the Superintendent of Schools, and the Chairman of the Hartford Court of Common Council. In the first count of her lengthy complaint, Ms. Gilbertson contends that the defendants, acting in their official capacities, wrongfully discharged her as a teacher in violation of her rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The second count charges that the individual defendants acted maliciously and with deliberate intent to deprive the plaintiff of her constitutional rights to freedom of speech, due process of law, and equal protection of laws. The atmosphere at this school was continually punctuated by disruptive behavior by the students, false fire alarms, fist fights, extreme truancy, interracial disturbances, and confrontations among students, teachers and administrators. Officials further became disturbed and alarmed when on divers days in October certain leaflets, prepared by an organization called the Revolutionary Youth Movement, were distributed to students and teachers at Weaver High School. Gilbertson admittedly distributed several controversial leaflets in the immediate vicinity of Weaver High School. These materials denounced several employees in the Hartford educational system and criticized the Work Study Program, a school project which enabled students to work at part-time jobs during school hours.Gilbertson was requested by Principal Street to report to his office October 23, 1973. She refused to come without a fellow witness. On November 2, 1973, defendant Kelly suspended Ms. Gilbertson without pay and discharged her from employment effective February 4, 1974. In effect, she was terminated as a teacher for "misconduct." Specifically, the Superintendent's notice enumerated six reasons for the action which may be summarized as follows: 1. Failing to obey two lawful orders of the principal of Weaver High School;2. Participating in the distribution of literature prepared by a "political, partisan and controversial" organization (the Revolutionary Youth Movement), in violation of a rule of the Board of Education;3. Circulating false and inflammatory materials concerning the principal of Weaver High School;4. Using students to promote a partisan interest;5. Distributing leaflets which contained untrue accusations against city officials;6. Failing to heed prior warnings from the Superintendent "not to allow your private beliefs to interfere with your responsibilities of adhering to stated Board policy.

Decision and Rationale:
The court disagreed with Gilbertson’s arguments. The court stated that, “The plaintiff was discharged for a willful violation of disregard of standards of behavior which the Board had every right to expect of its teachers. Without a doubt, Ms. Gilbertson’s improper actions as a teacher constituted ‘misconduct’.” On Gilbertson’s second part of the complaint: whether the majority of Board members, acting individually, were impermissibly prejudiced against the plaintiff. “The court finds that the proof in this case does not support a contention that the Board had prejudged the plaintiff’s case; rather, the evidence is sufficient to demonstrate that the Board acted in good faith and without malice.”

Impact on Teaching:
There are so many things that teachers can learn from this case. First, obeying Principals’ orders is pretty much part of your job description as a teacher. As long as the orders are ethically right and within school rules, it’s the teacher’s duty to follow them. Along with that, circulating false and inflammatory information about your school Principal and/ or city officials is absolutely unnecessary as well as ethically wrong. We should be setting a good example and giving our students a good role model. Next, not letting our personal beliefs interfere with our duties is something we are taught in school, before we even become a teacher. What this should teach us, if we don’t already know, is common sense that not following rules and letting personal beliefs impede on our responsibilities as an educator and professional will only serve one purpose: getting you fired.

Quiz Question:
Gilbertson was terminated for distributing controversial leaflets to students. True or False