The Court of Appeals has upheld the termination of a middle school principal for sending a text to her husband that included a racy photograph. This was a nice gesture by the wife. Using her personal phone, in her private home, she took a nude selfie and sent it to her husband who was toiling away far from home in the oil fields. This private communication between spouses is entitled to constitutional protection. But if someone hacks into the wife’s account and distributes the picture around the community all bets are off.
That’s what happened here. It’s unfortunate that the principal/wife lost her job due to no fault of her own. In fact, it was the criminal act of a third party (a still unknown third party) that led to the termination of her employment. The school board concluded that there was no way she could continue to be effective in her job as a middle school principal.
As far as the legal proceedings, the important thing here was that the facts were undisputed. What was in dispute was the effect they would have. The independent hearing examiner who heard the case concluded that the board failed to demonstrate “good cause” to terminate the principal. The hearing officer believed that the principal could still be effective in her job. The board disagreed with that:
Moreover, separate and apart from Esparza’s actions, it is undisputed that a nude photo of Esparza was widely circulated among students and parents at Barrientes Middle School and was widely publicized in the Edinburg community. This exposure clearly diminished Esparza’s ability to perform her role as an administrator and authority figure over the middle school students.
The Court of Appeals acknowledged that “reasonable minds” could disagree about this. But the board’s conclusion on the issue would be upheld as long as there was some support for it in the record. There was:
It was reasonable for the school board to infer from the escalating media coverage and the fact that the photo had recently “gone viral” that the disruption and distraction from the photo would continue and interfere with Esparza’s ability to effectively perform her job duties, in violation of ECISD’s policy.
The lesson of this case? You can lose your job if you lose your effectiveness, even when you did nothing wrong. I expect some of you disagree with my assessment that she did nothing wrong. You may think that her use of her cell phone was, at a minimum, reckless. Maybe so. But think of this from the perspective of the hard working husband, hundreds of miles away, working in the oil fields. He picks up his cell phone and finds a flirtatious and pleasant surprise from the woman he loves. I say: there’s nothing wrong with that.
The case is Edinburg CISD v. Esparza, decided by the Court of Appeals for Corpus Christi and Edinburg on March 19, 2020.
DAWG BONE: MAYBE A POLAROID WOULD BE A BETTER IDEA.
Tomorrow: Can you do a search based on a student’s tip?