A Victory for the First Amendment in Illinois
By Leo Welch
On October 30, 2014 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh District Court in Illinois ruled for Robin Meade, the Plaintiff-Appellant and against Moraine Valley Community College, the Defendant-Appellee.
Robin Meade was fired for writing a critical letter to the League for Innovation in the Community College (LICC). The Moraine Valley administration asked her and other leaders of the Moraine Valley Adjunct Faculty Organization, a union affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, to write to the LICC in favor of the college's affiliation with the organization.
Instead of glowing platitudes, Meade wrote that the college treated her and other adjunct faculty, who teach 60 percent of courses, as a "disposable resource" and a separate, lower class of people." She also wrote that adjuncts were underpaid and lacked benefits and job security, "creating a chilling effect, which affects adjunct performance and erodes the confidence the idyllic atmosphere and beautiful buildings and grounds strive to protect."
The letter to the LICC was sent in August of 2013. The LICC, which is controlled by administration, forwarded a copy back to the Moraine Valley administration. Two days after sending the letter from VP Andrew Duren, indicating she was terminated. Meade also received an email from Moraine Valley's chief of security that her presence on campus would be considered a criminal trespass.
Meade then sued, in the district court for retaliation in violation of First Amendment rights and termination of her teaching job without due process.
Moraine Valley claimed that Meade's letter was not relevant to public interest to claim protected speech and based on her adjunct status, she did not have property interest in her teaching job to claim due process violation. Moraine Valley also claimed that the written agreement with the college could not "be considered a commitment on part of the college for future assignment." The district court found on behalf of Moraine Valley.
The appeals court overturned the district court's decision and Chief Judge Diane P. Wood, writing for the unanimous, three judge panel said that Meade's claim about adjunct working conditions in relation to student success met the legal definition of public concern. In addition Meade is not alone in expressing concern about the treatment of adjuncts.
The appeals court also referenced the 2006 U.S. Supreme Court Case Garcetti v. Ceballos which help that a public employee's statement made pursuant to his or her official duties cannot provide the basis of a retaliation claim. This ruling limits the effect of Garcetti for public academic employees.
This decision supports the U.S. Supreme Court's 1968 ruling in Pickering v. Board of Education which held that a faculty member's First Amendment rights, regarding the public good, is constitutional.
As a final note Moraine Valley Community College is now a member of the League for Innovation in the Community College. Apparently Robin Meade's letter had no impact on LICC to accept Moraine Valley's petition to join. Why should the LICC turn down the $1,000 plus dues they require for membership dues?