A teacher had worked for her district for almost 10 years. One day, her principal confronted her with nude pictures of herself that allegedly had been posted on a website. She resigned in lieu of an investigation but was subsequently reinstated after filing a grievance. She then filed a lawsuit against the principal and two HR employees, alleging they forced her to resign under duress and false pretenses. The lawsuit was dismissed by the district court and was appealed.
The issue before the court of appeals was whether or not the principal and HR employees were immune from suit. To make this determination, the court examined the facts of the case. An anonymous email claiming to be from a parent was sent to the principal and two assistant principals. The email contained a link to some nude pictures that the email claimed were posted to the internet. It was later discovered that the email had in fact been sent by the teacher's ex-fiancé.
When the principal accessed the link
contained in the email, he saw nude and some pornographic photos of the
teacher. Because of the content of the email, the principal forwarded it
to the two other employees who were ultimately named in the suit. The
principal said they were concerned that the email and website link
implicated "potential adverse effects on the mental, safety, and
well-being of students" at his school and that the teacher had
"likely lost the ability to be an effective teacher in the district."
The HR employees instructed the principal to bring the teacher to his office
with her pictures on the screen for a "shock factor."
The principal then pulled the teacher from her classroom. When they arrived at the principal's office, he displayed the nude images from the website on an oversized computer monitor and asked if the pictures were of her. She confirmed that they were but said she had not created the website, posted the photographs, or authorized or consented to the publishing of such photographs. Rather, she explained that she had previously taken the pictures and sent them to a former fiancé with whom she had been in a long-distance relationship.
The principal proceeded to scroll through the photographs and told the teacher she had "two options: resign or go on administrative leave and incur an investigation that would involve the human resources department and school board to see the pictures." The teacher was in a "shocked state" and "under duress." She repeatedly stated that she did not know what to do and asked for time to call her parents and her lawyer, but the principal refused.
She asked for 24 hours to consider the events and the options available to her, but the principal refused and demanded a decision "now." He told her that the photos "were being viewed by school parents already, and that they were being circulated via student devices at school too." He told the teacher that if she proceeded with an investigation, "everyone" would know and they "would 'all' see the website." The teacher decided to resign.
investigation by the district proved that the information used by
principal to pressure and intimidate the teacher, including that the
photographs had been viewed by parents and students, was false.
According to applicable law, a school district employee is immune from suit if their actions fell within the scope of their employment, or within their official capacity or authority, and their actions were discretionary. The teacher argued that it was not within the scope of employment of the principal and HR employees to investigate whether she posted nude pictures on the internet; however, the court of appeals disagreed, finding that it was within the scope of employment of the district employees to report the email and discuss how to handle the situation.
The principal did have the authority to ask the teacher resign. Therefore, the principal and HR employees acted within the scope of their authority because they were each discharging duties generally assigned to them or specifically assigned to them that day.
As to the issue of whether their actions were discretionary, the court stated that the employees personal deliberation, decision and judgment as opposed to simply "following orders" when they made the decision about how to approach the situation. Accordingly, the principal and HR employees were immune from suit.