A Superior Court judge ruled against ex Barrow County teacher Ashley Payne, who resigned in 2009 after an anonymous e-mail was sent to the district complaining about her Facebook page. The case garnered international attention because of the role of the popular social media site in costing the young teacher her job.
Barrow had argued that Payne’s “writ of mandamus” — a judicial remedy to compel compel the system to restore her job – should be dismissed for several reasons. Among them: Payne’s contract had already expired so her request to initiate Fair Dismissal Proceedings was void.
“The judge did grant Barrow’s motion for summary judgment on the mandamus claim, indicating that for technical reasons, mandamus is not available. However, all the other claims we made in our amended complaint are still pending,” said Payne Monday night in an e-mail.
The court decision was not unexpected by Payne and her attorney Richard Storrs given the time delays in getting their day in court. Storrs said Monday night that he filed an amended complaint with other claims.
After so much time, Storrs said getting back Payne’s job was unlikely so he is now seeking monetary damages, arguing that she was deprived of her property rights without due process because Barrow pressured her to resign by misrepresenting that a parent had complained even though the district had no idea of the source of the e-mail.
The challenge is that Georgia law tends to maintain that if employees resign, even when their hands are forced, it doesn’t equal an involuntary termination.
“Basically, we are claiming that she wasn’t told her rights to a statutory hearing, that the basic premise of what was going on was misrepresented to her, that it was a complaint by a parent when they didn’t have the information,” said Storrs.
Now in graduate school at the University of Georgia, Payne was called in by the principal three years ago after an alleged unnamed and still unknown “parent” e-mailed the superintendent complaining about standard travel shots of Payne on her Facebook page showing her in European beer gardens and cafes. Of 700 vacation photos, 10 had alcohol in them. The e-mail alleged that a student had seen the Facebook page somehow. (I tried to e-mail the “parent” myself, and the address did not exist any longer. Barrow told me at the time that it was not incumbent on the district to verify the e-mail or trace it since Payne resigned. I still remain certain that the e-mail, which was never traced, came from a miffed co-worker. And you can read why here.)
On her Facebook page, which was set to the highest privacy levels and limited to Payne’s adult friends, Payne also posted that she was headed out to play Crazy Bitch Bingo, a popular game played weekly at an Atlanta restaurant.
The trip photos and the comment led her principal to call in Payne and tell her that she could resign or he would refer her case to the Professional Standards Commission and she would possibly lose her teaching license. The principal suggested to Payne that resignation was a safer option for her, according to the written statement provided to me by Barrow County schools at the time. In a panic, Payne said she resigned, which is what has limited her legal recourse today.
(In 2009, I talked to the head of the PSC, the state’s governing body over teacher conduct. He told me his office would not have responded to an anonymous e-mail.)
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog