In Rachel L. Carr v. PennDOT and Pa. State Civil Service Commission, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned a very problematic decision of the Commonwealth Court that had concluded that the First Amendment free speech rights of a probationary PennDOT employee were violated when PennDOT fired her because of rants she had posted on her personal Facebook page about school bus drivers, including expressing her willingness to crash her car into school buses. PSBA and several other local government groups jointly filed a friend of the court brief before the Supreme Court, supporting the position of PennDOT.
Carr’s termination had been upheld by the State Civil Service Commission, but the Commonwealth Court reversed the Commission’s ruling. In turn reversing the Commonwealth Court, the Supreme Court’s May 19, 2020 decisions concludes that PennDOT had properly terminated Carr, finding that whatever First Amendment interests she had in the messages that she posted on her personal Facebook page were outweighed by the way those statements undermined the interests of the government employer in effectively performing its mission. Her Facebook profile identified her as an employee of PennDOT. In her posts, she complained about “the horrible school bus drivers” in her hometown area. In one of her messages, she stated “I don’t give a flying **** about those babies and I will gladly smash into a school bus.” The Court found that even if Ms. Carr never intended to drive her vehicle into a school bus, her words alone could erode the public’s trust in PennDOT’s mission and determined that PennDOT acted reasonably in terminating her employment. The Court reasoned: “Clearly, few statements could be more contrary to the Department’s mission of providing safe roadways for the traveling public than Carr’s comment.” The Court specifically found that her comments on her Facebook posts did not touch on a matter of public concern such that First Amendment protections may apply, and found that her posts were essentially a rant based on her personal observation of one bus driver. The full text of the decision will be available in the next issue of PSBA’s School Law Information Exchange (SLIE). The Commonwealth Court’s decision appeared in SLIE Volume 55, No. 12 (June 15, 2018).
As a primary component of PSBA’s Judicial Advocacy program, PSBA files amicus curiae (friend of the court) briefs in selected significant cases affecting public school governance and operations before state and federal appeals courts. On some occasions, PSBA does so jointly with other local government associations, state agencies, NSBA and school boards associations in other states.