DEFAMATORY STATEMENTS ABOUT TEACHERS
DEFAMATORY STATEMENTS ABOUT STUDENTS
SEX DISCRIMINATION AGAINST TEACHERS
SEX DISCRIMINATION AGAINST STUDENTS
Chapter 7: What Constitutes Slander and Libel?
"The law of civil defamation makes it unlawful for one person to make a false statement that tends to harm another person's reputation"(111).
exposes another person's hatred, shame, disgrace, contempt or ridicule to a third party
-> spoken defamatory statement = slander
-> written defamatory statement = libel
e.g. the Pitka Case - Elizabeth Pitka, a schoolteacher in Alaska resigned in 1957, withdrew her resignation, received a letter relieving her of her duties, the school board advised her not to enter school property and had her arrested for disturbing the peace. The newspaper printed "North Pole Teacher Fights Board : Territorial Police Called to Expel Fired Schoolmarm, Dispute at Outlying Community Finds Teacher Defying School Board; She Is Arrested for Disorderly Conduct." Pitka sued the paper for libel.
-The Supreme Court of Alaska found that the paper was libelous on its face (or libelous per se).
"for a publication to be libelous per se the words must be so unambiguous as to be
reasonably susceptible of only one interpretation - that is, one that has a natural tendency to injure another's reputation." The court concluded that the paper in the Pitka Case was libelous per se. The court also ruled that the newspaper company should have the opportunity to raise a defense that the statements in the headline were true. Under the common law, truth is an absolute defense and constitutes a
complete justification for the statements.
No. The majority of jurisdictions in the U.S. follow the common law rule, but a dozen states have modified it. In some states, truth is a defense unless the defamation was published with "malicious motives" or there is a requirement of a "justifiable purpose"
Words have been held to be clearly defamatory on their face if they:
1. impute a criminal offense
2. impute a loathsome disease
3. disparage professional competency
4. impute chastity or immorality of a woman
statements that do not fall in one of these categories can also be defamatory, but they require additional information to show that they injured someone's reputation
courts in some states treat slander and libel differently. in these states, any written words that expose a person to hatred, ridicule, or abuse are defamatory on their face; spoken words are actionable on their face only if they fall into one of the four listed categories.
statements that are clearly understood as being satire or humor are not defamatory
If a statement is defamatory on its face, the law assumes that an individual's reputation has been injured.
If false statements are not defamatory on their face, the injured party can collect monetary damages only by showing that s/he was directly harmed in some way by these statements.
any statements that falsely disparage a teacher's professional competence are defamatory on their face
-e.g. A statement made by the president of the board of education, "He is not a fit person to teach in any school. He is no good as a teacher "
-e.g. A newspaper article that described a college professor as, "illiterate, uncultivated, coarse..."
to be defamatory, the false statements must relate to the teacher's professional performance
-the trend today is to limit the per se category of slander to "those instances in which the defamatory remark is apparent from the publication itself without reference to intrinsic facts."
In a suit for libel, the jury has the responsibility to listen to the evidence and decide if the plaintiff is entitled to any damages and, if so, how much.
The amount of damages awarded to the plaintiff will vary according to how seriously the jury feels the plaintiff's reputation has been harmed.
Damage awards can include compensation for mental or physical injury or for other financial losses suffered as a result of defamatory statements
If the defendant has acted maliciously or with reckless disregard for the truth, the jury can award punitive damages as well.
Quantifying damage to reputation is obviously a difficult task, and the size of the awards vary considerably
Courts have ruled that school administrators generally have qualified privilege to comment on matters concerning the operation of the school.
School administrators will not be liable for defamatory remarks if under a duty to comment and acting in good faith. The privilege extends to letters of recommendation.
School officials can lose this qualified privilege if acting in bad faith or without regard for whether the statements are true.
An administrator may also be absolutely privileged and then cannot be found liable for defamation. (depends on the circumstances surrounding the utterance)
"The publication of false and defamatory matter of another is absolutely privileged if the other consents thereto." In other words, absolute privilege can extend to statements that the other party invites or to which the other party consents.
Statements made by public officials during judicial, legislative or official executive proceedings are absolutely privileged.
ostudents are guaranteed rights to privacy in their educational records and have access to their permanent school records.
oteachers can make notes about students for their personal use as long as they don't show them to anyone but a substitute teacher and students have no right to see them.
oteachers can be sued for defamatory statements published in students' permanent records (usually not liable for statements about students unless made with malicious intent)
oif teachers knowingly spread false gossip that harms a student's reputation, they can be found guilty of slander.
oa teacher's statements may be conditionally privileged if they are made as part of the disciplinary process or of the teacher's administrative responsibilities
oparents and students do not have the right to access letters of recommendation to colleges or prospective employers placed in students' records prior to 1975. A student can waive the right to see such letters if notified of persons making recommendations.
oif students gain access to these letters, teachers can be sued for defamatory statements made (unless a teacher acts maliciously by making untrue statements, the teacher will not be liable for any negative statements made in such letters).
No. The courts have reasoned that they do not have the expertise to evaluate the accuracy of a teacher's grading decision and will not intervene with grading unless it can be shown that school officials acted in bad faith.
oYes. e.g. In New York Times v. Sullivan, The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment's guarantees of freedom of speech and press require that public officials cannot be awarded damages for libel or slander unless they can prove that such statements were made with actual malice.
Sullivan, an elected official in Alabama, sued the NY Times, alleging that he had been libeled by an advertisement in that paper that included false statements about
police brutality and harassment directed at students who had participated in a civil rights demonstration. Since Sullivan's duties included supervision of the police department, he claimed that these statements referred to him and were libelous. The Alabama court instructed the jury that these claims were libelous per se. The U.S. Supreme Court disagreed. The First and Fourteenth Amendments require that public officials must meet a higher standard of proof in defamation suits. The Court protected individuals who criticized public officials by holding that such individuals would not be liable for defamation unless they acted with "actual malice."
oYes. e.g. an elected member of a board of education would be considered a public official, as will an elected student government representative.
oWhether teachers or school officials will be considered public officials varies from state to state. The trend is to hold that they are not public officials.
oNo. It only applies when the defamatory statements relate to "official conduct".
oYes. The U.S. Supreme Court has extended the N.Y. Times standard to public figures.
A public figure is one who 1) achieves general fame or notoriety in the community or 2) voluntarily injects himself or is drawn into a particular controversy and thereby becomes a public figure for a limited range of issues.
Depending on the circumstances, administrators, teachers and students could all qualify as public figures.
oYes. There is no wholesale defamation exemption for anything that might be labeled opinion. Expressions of opinion may often imply an association of objective fact.
-to determine whether a statement does imply actual facts, several factors should be examined; the type of language used, the meaning of the statement in context, whether the statement in verifiable, and the broader social circumstances in which the statement is made
oYes. The First Amendment prohibits awards of presumed punitive damages for false and defamatory statements unless the plaintiff showed "actual malice."
oTo prove actual malice, the plaintiff must show that the defendant made the objectionable statements either with knowledge that they were false or with reckless disregard of whether or not they were false.
oBoth teachers and administrators who make false statements that harm teachers' and students' reputations are liable for defamation.
-A written comment in a student's school record can lead to a libel suit.
-A gossip session in the teacher's lounge can support a charge of slander.
oIn many situations, teachers and administrators are protected in making statements about others teachers' and students' character and ability.
Courts have ruled that educators who are acting in good faith have a qualified
privilege to comment on matters that are within their scope and authority.
oIn some situations, the courts have ruled that educators' statements are absolutely privileged and that the individuals cannot be held liable even if their comments were made maliciously. e.g. an administrator who presents the reasons for a teacher's dismissal at a board of education meeting
oWhen teachers are falsely charged with matters relating to their professional competence, they can collect damages to compensate for injury to their reputation. In other situations, a teacher may have to prove that the comments actually did harm his or her reputation in order to be awarded damages.
oTeachers or administrators found to be public officials or public figures have a higher burden of proof in defamation suits. They will be awarded damages for libel or slander only if they can prove that the defendant made defamatory statements with actual malice.
Overview o"In the past, both the culture at large and our schools functioned as if there were significant differences between males and females that should be reflected in schooling. Though some of these practices persist, many have been challenged"(362).
No. Sex cannot be used as the basis of a pay disparity between individuals who perform substantially the same work. A pay difference is permissibly, however, if based on experience or qualifications.
Schools base salaries on formal preparation and experience and may be paid more on the basis of merit or additional duties.
Yes. Schools can create policies to pay for extra duties.
The principle of equal pay for equivalent work has been difficult to apply in the area of coaching. Must take into account work hours, number of students, length of season, number of practice sessions and the skill, effort and responsibility required.
Yes, in the case of a collective bargaining agreement between a school board and local teachers' union in Illinois, coaching compensation was specified in detail and referred to men coaches and women coaches. In this case, the "men" and "women" referred to the sex of the students being coached and therefore there was nothing illegal about the differential pay.
It may, depending in the circumstances.
After a plaintiff has shown that an employment practice has a disparate impact on a protected class, the burden then shifts to the employer to justify its practice as a business necessity. If the employer meets this burden, then the plaintiff must show that a less discriminatory alternative practice is available but that the employer refused to adopt it.
An unlawful employment practice is established when the plaintiff demonstrates that the employer's sex was a motivating factor in any employment practice, even though other factors motivated the practice.
Yes. The behavior must create a hostile work environment for the victim and the severity of the harassment should be judged by a reasonable person in the plaintiff's position.
Title VII authorizes courts to enjoin a defendant from engaging in unlawful employment practices and to order such relief as is appropriate, such as reinstatement and back pay. Compensatory and punitive damages may be awarded as well, although they are limited based on the size of the work force.
No, it would be a violation of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Yes. Gender is considered to be a bona fide occupational qualification because the position may call for special sensitivities in relationships with female students.
e.g. a female kindergarten teacher refused to undergo physical examination by the district's male physician after an extended sick leave. She claimed it was against her religion to be examined by a male physician. When suspended, she went to court. It was found to be a violation of her right to substantive due process and her constitutional right to privacy.
Not public school teachers. (private schools may impose rules of celibacy).
This is not to say that teachers always had such a freedom.
Until recently, most schools required that teachers who became pregnant leave without pay at the fourth or fifth month of their pregnancy. School boards maintained that such policies were related to maintenance of an orderly and efficient school system. The Supreme Court ruled that "arbitrary cut-off dates embodied in mandatory leave rules have no rational relationship to the valid state interest of preserving continuity of instruction."
It was found that some pregnant teachers are unable to perform all their duties, but not all pregnant teachers should be mandated to leave. A school cannot presume all pregnant women to be unfit to teach at certain points in a pregnancy nor at certain points after a pregnancy. Such presumption is overly broad and penalizes female teachers who bear children.
School officials may require a written note of intention to begin a pregnancy leave as well as a notice of intention of the date of return. They may also require a medical certificate attesting to the medical competence of the teacher to continue or resume work.
A federal law also protects teachers who wish to take maternity leave.
Some cases have held, as recently as 1945, that pregnancy can constitute "neglect of duty" or "incompetency" and be grounds for dismissal because it renders a teacher unable to carry out her job.
More recently, the law has recognized the right to "bear and beget a child."
Yes. Laws today require employers to treat pregnancy disability the same as any other disability.
No, a provision allowing only female teachers to take a year unpaid leave for child-rearing was found to violate Title VII.
Yes. Sexual harassment is sex discrimination prohibited by Title VII and many states also have laws barring sex discrimination in the workplace.
Guidelines define sexual harassment as: unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when 1) submission to such conduct is made a condition of one's employment, 2) submission to or rejection of such conduct is used as a basis for employment decisions, or 3) such conduct has the purpose or effect of interfering with one's work performance or creating an offensive work environment.
This area of schooling is complex and controversial. No simple answer is appropriate to this question.
a girl cannot be prevented from playing on a boys' team on the basis of sex and sex alone.
"A classification must be reasonable and not arbitrary, and must rest upon some ground of difference having fair and substantial relation to the object of the legislation, so that all persons similarly circumstances shall be treated alike."
recognized by the courts that there are substantial physiological differences between boys and girls
in noncontact sports, where no teams exist for girls, they may compete for positions on boys' teams.
This law provides that "no person in the U.S. shall on the basis on sex be excluded from participation, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or act or activity receiving Federal financial assistance." Title IX is relied upon in many situations to strike down discrimination against students.
The courts have disagreed on how to interpret the equal protection clause.
Schools must offer girls and boys substantially proportionate playing opportunities.
There is no uniformity among the states on what the amendments mean for co-educational athletic competition.
Students who believe that they are victims of sex discrimination may sue under the U.S. Constitution. When controversies arise, it is very important to check the applicable state law as well as the prior opinions of federal courts for the area.
In general, no. Girls and boys must have equal access to the full curriculum.
Title IX prohibits sex discrimination based on sex in connection with all education programs or activities at private and public schools that receive federal financial assistance.
Yes. A school will be liable for sexual harassment of its students by its employees if the school has notice of the harassment. But failed to take immediate and appropriate steps to remedy it.
The vast weight of authority established that there is no individual liability.
Federal appeals courts have reached different conclusions.
The answer is unclear. Only future cases will reveal the extent to which the Court is subjecting gender-based classifications to a stricter standard of review.
No. Such practices violate the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Yes, as long as the alternative is a genuine option that students may choose.
No, this is a violation of Title IX unless the reasons for dismissal is not her pregnancy or gender but rather that she had engaged in premarital sex. (failure to uphold the high standards of leadership and character required for NHS membership)
The current legal trend is to protect students' rights to participate in both curricular and extracurricular activities, whether the students remain single, get married, or become pregnant.