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Lawsuit: School squelched workers' rights over online posts

October 21, 2015

A federal lawsuit has been filed on behalf of two Indiana school cafeteria workers who were disciplined after posting concerns about school spending on social media.

The lawsuit was filed Monday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, which contends the Brownsburg Community School District Corp. workers' free speech rights were squelched.

According to the lawsuit, a human resources officer told Tina Gracey and Brenda Farnsworth last month that their posts on a public Facebook group were against the district's social media policy. The lawsuit says they were given a written warning and were told they could be fired for posting similar messages.

"There is no justification for the school corporation's attempts to silence its workers' speech on issues of public interest and concern," ACLU staff attorney Gavin Rose said in a news release.

Farnsworth and Gracey's comments criticized two referendums asking for tax increases to build a new elementary school and renovate a high school building, according to the lawsuit. The referendums were rejected by voters in May.

The lawsuit says the district's social media policy requires employees' public comments about the school to "meet the highest standards of professional discretion." The policy says employees' "online behavior should reflect the same standards of honesty, respect, and consideration that you use face-to-face," according to the lawsuit.

If officials find an employee's activity "may violate" district policies, the social media policy says officials "may request that the employee cease such activity," according to the lawsuit.

Gracey said she contacted the ACLU shortly after getting the written warning. The lawsuit seeks to have the warnings erased from the women's employment record.

"I don't want to lose my job because of this. I'm not asking for money," Gracey said. "I just want it to be made public that people are allowed to speak out against things like this."

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