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Also, §22 of the New York State's General Construction Law, in pertinent part, provides that “Whenever words of the masculine or feminine gender appear in any law, rule or regulation, unless the sense of the sentence indicates otherwise, they shall be deemed to refer to both male or female persons.” NYPPL typically follows this protocol.

October 28, 2010

Requiring teachers to get school's permission to use school's internal mailboxes to distribute personal materials does not violate free speech rights

Requiring teachers to get school's permission to use school's internal mailboxes to distribute personal materials does not violate free speech rights
Source: Adjunct Law Prof Blog; http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/adjunctprofs/
Reproduced with permission. Copyright © 2010, Mitchell H. Rubinstein, Esq., Adjunct Professor of Law, St. Johns Law School and New York Law School, All rights reserved.

Policastro v. Tenafly Bd. of Educ., ___F.Supp. 2d____ (D. N.J. May 7, 2010), is an interesting case. A district court in New Jersey has ruled that school district officials did not violate a teacher’s First Amendment right to freedom of speech when they disciplined him for placing personal correspondence in teachers’ internal mailboxes in contravention of the district’s materials distribution policy requiring teachers to obtain prior permission.

The court concluded that the policy constituted a reasonable content-neutral time, place and manner restriction.

The court rejected Policastro’s contention that based on the free speech principles enunciated in Tinker v. Des Moines Indep. Cmty. Sch. Dist., 393 U.S. 503 (1968), that he had the right “to use the teacher mailboxes without administrative permission.” The court explained that when the speaker is a government employee, the public employer may restrict speech that “does not relate to matters of public concern as long as the employee’s interest in speaking does not outweigh the government’s interest in prohibiting him or her from doing so” under Pickering v. Board of Education of Township High School District 205, 391 U.S. 563 (1968), as refined in Garcetti v. Ceballos, 547 U.S. 410 (2006). Like Tinker, however, the Pickering/Carcetti standard involves content-based restrictions, and is not applicable to content-neutral limitations on government employee speech like the regulation at issue here.

Editor's Comments: A similar issue was considered by PERB.

The Public Employees Federation [PEF] filed a complaint with PERB after a PEF board member, state education program supervisor C. Michael Darcy, lost his State e-mail privileges because he used his account to conduct union business.

Darcy lost his department e-mail privilege after the Governor's Office of Employee Relation's [GOER] circulated a memorandum to state departments and agencies indicating that the use of state equipment to conduct union business was "strictly prohibited."

PEF conceded that Darcy, and other PEF officials, have used the state's e-mail to discuss union business but contended that this is a "past practice" and thus any change should have first been negotiated with the union. GOER disagreed, explaining that its reminder simply reflected a management policy that dates back to the 1970's.

In a case involving "snail-mail" rather than e-mail, [Roosevelt Teachers Association, 16 PERB 4545] PERB said that a union does not have any statutory right to access employee mailboxes on employer's property. In the absence of a contractual provision permitting such access, PERB ruled, an employee union representative may be denied approval to place material in the boxes. [Of course the union could distribute such information via the teacher's school mailbox by using the U.S. postal service "to deliver the mail."]

In a similar case, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to find discrimination when a school district decided not to allow an employee organization to use its internal mail system to distribute union material to its members [Perry Education Association v Perry School District, 460 US 37].

In contrast, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that the use of the employer's e-mail to communicate about union business is a protected activity within the meaning of Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act. The case arose when nonunion Timekeeping Systems, Inc. fired an employee after he sent e-mail messages to the company's chief executive officer and fellow employees complaining about Timekeeping's new leave policies [Timekeeping Systems, Inc. v Leinweber, 323 NLRB 30].

N.B. The Taylor Law [Section 209-a.6, Civil Service Law] provides that "in applying this [Article], fundamental distinctions between private and public employment shall be recognized, and no body of federal or state law applicable wholly or in part to private employment, shall be regarded as binding or controlling precedent."
NYPPL

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