Court rules against Ashley Payne in Facebook case. But more to come.

One of the Facebook photos that a "parent" complained about in an anonymous e-mail

One of the Facebook photos that a "parent" complained about in an anonymous e-mail

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


63 comments Add your comment

Jordan Kohanim

October 10th, 2011
7:44 pm

I hope I don’t sound silly, but doesn’t this case epitomize the need for fair dismissal laws?

Had this young lady known her rights (and had she enough time in the system), wouldn’t this costly lawsuit have been avoided?

Maureen Downey

October 10th, 2011
7:49 pm

@Jordan, I think this probably calls for thinking long and hard before resigning under pressure from a boss — in any profession. But I think young employees in any job are more susceptible to this sort of scenario.
Maureen

Nikole

October 10th, 2011
7:51 pm

Lesson 1: NEVER resign! No matter how angry or upset you become, NEVER resign! Sign documents with addendum stating you do not agree or are signing under duress, but NEVER resign!

Former SPARK parent

October 10th, 2011
7:52 pm

Her case might not find a foothold in case law, but she was unquestionably victimized by what must be the dumbest collection of backwater school-district rubes in all of 3rd-world Georgia, and that’s saying a lot (Cecily Harsch-Kinnane, there may be a post-APS future for you yet, if you’re willing to relocate….)

You wonder why Georgia can’t scrape itself off the bottom of the barrel in all the education metrics that matter, and then you read something like this it suddenly gets very clear.

Jordan Kohanim

October 10th, 2011
7:55 pm

Maureen,

Fair enough, but I think it would be a fair assumption that this young lady was targeted, seemingly from a supervisor. I think that makes a good case for the need for fair dismissal laws. While she may have been young and naive, anyone (despite experience) could be targeted.

One might even be targeted for speaking out on a blog, for instance. ;)

Maureen Downey

October 10th, 2011
7:59 pm

@Jordan, I agree. If I ever job hunt, this blog will do me in.
Maureen

Jordan Kohanim

October 10th, 2011
8:01 pm

You and me both, sister!! :)

Another Math Teacher

October 10th, 2011
8:01 pm

I’ll post later. Right now I’m photo-shopping glasses of beer into the hands of teachers I don’t like!

Gwinnnettian

October 10th, 2011
8:05 pm

@ Former SPARK parent
October 10th, 2011
7:52 pm

You made me LOL!

Mikey D

October 10th, 2011
8:13 pm

Big shock — another teacher gets screwed. Sure, there’s absolutely no need for fair dismissal protections, because all of our administrators are sooooo honorable, huh?

Sallie

October 10th, 2011
8:50 pm

We do not need to make it even harder to deal with poorly performing teachers. Fair Dismissal laws will strangle the system.

Edward

October 10th, 2011
8:57 pm

I think some “anonymous emails” alleging child abuse by some “parents” could be beneficial.

Jordan Kohanim

October 10th, 2011
8:59 pm

So this is slightly off topic, but how do you measure “poorly performing?”

If my test scores are low? If my class grade point average isn’t a perfect bell?

What does poor teacher performance look like? What does good teacher performance look like?

B. Killebrew

October 10th, 2011
9:08 pm

Funny Jordan-

I was pondering the exact same questions today…

thewindwhistler

October 10th, 2011
9:15 pm

Teaching is a calling, much like the ministery. Students look up to teachers and emulate them. We are taLKIng impressionable, young, malleable minds. Teachers traditionally have been pure of heart, mind and body. I am sure this young, eager to teach had no lascivious thoughts or deeds. She was pure of spirit.

All of the above being said, she should have been less eAGER to resign. The principal may have been frightening and she paniced.

Jordan Kohanim

October 10th, 2011
9:16 pm

That is the hardest thing for me. I think I am good at what I do, but do my test scores reflect that? Do my grade point averages? I try to make sure those things I can control–reflective practices, lesson plans, professional development, collaboration–are at 110%, but I don’t think test makers or state level administrators can see that. They certainly don’t have time to evaluate ALL educators on a portfolio level.

So how else can they measure teacher performance?

Surely there is a happy medium, I just don’t think this economy will support best practices of evaluating educators on more than test scores. Administrators are already being asked to do too much with too little. How are they supposed to meaningfully gauge my performance?

Joel Healy

October 10th, 2011
9:29 pm

In California, where I worked as a public official (1962-1993), we had a rule of law known as a “Skelly” Hearing. In short, no public employee can or could be terminated without a Skelly Hearing. This applies to all public employees i.e., law enforcement (which is where I worked), Health Agencies, School Districts, etc. In short, if your agency was supported by a tax base, your agency/department was mandated to conduct such a hearing for all disciplinary actions i.e., suspensions or terminations. Under no circumstances was an employee advised to “resign” and that it would be in their own best interest. In fact, the employee when was summoned to the administrator’s office, the administrator, pursuant to Union Agreement was required to have a Union Official (Shop Steward) present during the meeting i.e., to protect the workers rights. During my career as both an administrator and a Skelly Hearing Officer, I found that the process worked quite well for both sides of the table. Essentially, once the Hearing Officer conducts the Hearing i.e, with the employee and Union Field Representative, the facts are reviewed and a decision is rendered. The Hearing Officer has the absolute authority to dismiss the recommended disciplinary action, reduce the recommended disciplinary action, or increase the recommend action (rarely done). Once the ruling has been made, both the employee and their Union are advised accordingly. The decision made, it is invoked immediately. However, the decision can/may be appealed to the full Personnel Board consisting of five members i.e., one from the Union, two from citizens appointed by the Board of Supervisors and two from the Personnel Department. At this level, the employee in question is represented by the Unions attorney of record. Also, both sides can agree to arbitration before an Administrative Hearing Judge. Once the decision is rendered, it is binding. The entire process here is to ensure the rights of the employee and their job, which, by the way, under California Law, is viewed as their property and cannot be taken from them without a Skelly Hearing.

d

October 10th, 2011
9:38 pm

The public nature of this blog is the main reason Giuseppe the moniker I do. I would hate exercising my right to free speech just to have my words turned against me. Some of my coworkers have figured out who I am though. Like Ms. Payne, my Facebook account is on maximum privacy. I do have to think about some of the things my friends say on Twitter though. I had quite a few I wanted to pass on yesterday about some nasty stuff coming from Canadian media at Atlanta’s expense, but I did hold my retweet finger at bay…. in large part due to Ms. Payne’s experience.

d

October 10th, 2011
9:40 pm

*use the moniker …. blasted autocorrect

Joel Healy

October 10th, 2011
9:47 pm

As a side note, in following the rather sad circumstances surrounding the Atlanta School District and their subsequent indictment for cheating which was brought about by what can only be defined as the incompetent leadership, if not, out right criminal activity on the part of “Doctor” Harvard. Her heavy handed administration and threats to subordinate administrator’s created the current nightmare for ATS. ATS and the State of Georgia needs to establish an adequate system of checks and balances to protect both the school administrators and teachers. Otherwise, history is bound to repeat itself. Had she perpetrated such conduct in any California School District she would have been indicted and charged with several felonies.

Davis

October 10th, 2011
9:48 pm

If you are offended by a grown woman holding a glass of liquor and smiling, please shoot yourself in the head. Regardless of her profession, she’s allowed to drink on her time. Idiot Rednecks.

Cobb Teacher

October 10th, 2011
9:55 pm

Amen, Davis..this must be the result of our Puritan ancestors..how prudish..how embarrassing..go to Europe and everyone has wine/beer with lunch or dinner. So..on my trip to Europe last year, at the ripe age of 52, I should be careful about posting a picture of my husband and I having a beer on the Med. coast? Give me a break! Meanwhile, my students can use every profane word in the universe, their parents can be just as crude, but I’m to portray some societal image of perfection? This is a warped society!

hardworkingteacher

October 10th, 2011
9:58 pm

I hope this is not the end! Surely, there is justice somewhere in our country that will protect this young lady from this backward school district. This is a witch hunt and I cannot believe her rights are not protected.

Recently Retired Teacher

October 10th, 2011
10:03 pm

The principal in this case should be the one on trial for pressuring this teacher into resigning. Hopefully, another jury will give her the opportunity to teach again, and they will find the principal guilty of undo pressure and whatever else they can find. Also, the parent who emailed this should have a serious talk with someone about his/her totally biased opinions who only harm them.

Joel Healy

October 10th, 2011
10:04 pm

Opps, sorry for the typo, it should ASD, not ATS.

sidney c

October 10th, 2011
10:15 pm

Sadly, there was no way a court was going to hold the state accountable for this. Her best chance is in the federal court of appeals.

The problem is that there is no sense of checks and balances. HR departments at the schools can pressure you into resigning because there is no way they will be told not to either by a union or the courts.

Even if you do something really stupid, you can always get a doctors note that you were taking medication and get moved into a different postion or just get a slap on the wrist, perhaps, if you coach football.

Joel Healy

October 10th, 2011
10:22 pm

Had I read of an incident like this taking place in Iran, I would not have been surprised, as they have a legal system which is driven by the Koran. If the Georgia School Districts had such a similar policy, the offending teacher would have been terminated and the ordered stoned to death. That’s what happens when you allow the various bible wavers to control the political process. Essentially, Georgia is living in the Stone Age.

MB

October 10th, 2011
10:46 pm

Poor teacher performance – what does it look like? As Justice Potter opined, it may not be easily defined, but we know it when we see it, right? (Would probably have to link it more with horrible teacher performance since his test was for hard-core…and don’t we all recognize that?)

She definitely deserved better than she got – and we can only hope that those folks who targeted her are the reapers of what they sowed!

Phil Osopher

October 10th, 2011
10:57 pm

Bottom legal line (if you hysterical people can reign in your “righteous” anger over negative connotations regarding booze) is that a grown adult woman who is too ignorant to assert herself is not shielded, protected and guarded by the law. She resigned — of her own free will. And this “pressured” nonsense is simply shyster-contrived chicanery that the judge wisely rejected. She lost. She needs to move on with her life by letting this quixotic quest for what she misguidedly believes is “justice” go. Don’t like how Georgia labor law is construed? Lobby the legislature for statutes that favor employees. (Then open the floodgates for frivolous litigation.)

Oh Maureen!

October 11th, 2011
2:45 am

Oh Maureen, this blog won’t “do you in”.

Just because you said on this very blog that lack of discipline “isn’t a pressing issue” doesn’t mean anybody would take that as meaning you lack a basic understanding of what’s happening in the public schools.

After all, any loss of credibility on account of that I’m sure was more than restored with your proclamation that Beverly Hall should remain at APS for the “stability” she provides the district.

Very Passionate About Our Schools

October 11th, 2011
4:14 am

And this so-called parent that reported her plus alot of the other complainers, how many times have you gotten stupid drunk in front of your own kids? This lady was just having a relaxing fun time on her vacation. It is the one that got their panties in a wad over this that scares me. If another teacher, I sure wouldn’t want you teaching my child with your attitude, etc.; if in fact it was a parent, I wouldn’t want you around my child with your judgmental attitude. Clean your own doorstep before you try to clean someone else’s.

The STRONG Man

October 11th, 2011
4:48 am

It is unfortunate that she resigned. She would have had a fighter’s chance if she had forced them to fire her. Today is a new day in education, and teachers must be aware of the legal, financial, and political environment in which they work. Barrow County simply took advantage of the fact that most teachers do not know ALL of their rights and lack the moxie to challenge their school district.

The GUERRILLA TACTICS that I reference on http://www.indictbeverlyhall.com/ would have helped this young lady.

http://www.indictbeverlyhall.com – The Road to Education Reform Starts in Atlanta!

mystery poster

October 11th, 2011
8:23 am

Although the glass of wine was what got the most press, I remember reading that it was the word “*itch” that they had the complaint with.

Allegedly the mystery complainer’s daughter used that horrifying word, and told her mom “I got it from my teacher’s facebook.”

Nonplussed

October 11th, 2011
8:37 am

Sometimes even adults don’t think clearly when under pressure especially the pressure of loosing not just your job but your career. Don’t forget the threat was if she didn’t resign the PSC would investigate leading to the revocation of her certificate. A Certificate she spent at least $40,000 and 4 years to obtain. I suppose you don’t think there was any pressure. I believe that a school system ignorant enough to act on an anonymous complaint from a parent about a teacher partaking in a legal activity would be willing to use coercion to get rid of people. Imagine if an anonymous complaint came in stating they were offended by a picture of her wearing jeans instead of a dress do you think they would have even called her into the office? Of course the issue is about drinking!

Nonplussed

October 11th, 2011
8:39 am

The above comment is in reference to

From Phil Osopher “She resigned — of her own free will. And this “pressured” nonsense is simply shyster-contrived chicanery that the judge wisely rejected.”

Anonmom

October 11th, 2011
9:05 am

I think that there’s a teachers’ shortage in the metro area (APS?) — she just needs to apply for a new job…..

V for Vendetta

October 11th, 2011
9:27 am

I think the larger issue here is that the school admins were disingenuous about how/where the complaint came from. My opinion: pretty young teacher rubs a fellow (jealous) employee the wrong way and gets fired because of it. As dumb as that sounds, I have seen similar sentiments towards younger, more attractive teachers at might school. Some of the blue hair types near retirement think those young whippersnappers are just causing trouble with their haughty airs and fancy ways. They talk more sh1t about them than the students talk about each other!

Apteach

October 11th, 2011
10:20 am

@Maureen. You are wrong. It wasn’t a miffed coworker. Try Board member.

Maureen Downey

October 11th, 2011
10:39 am

@Ap, Why would a board member have to disguise himself or herself? They interfere in hiring and firing decisions all the time. I also think it had to be someone relatively young — 40 or younger. The board at the time had many older members who I don’t think would have been up on Facebook. In addition, she had no board members as friends so they could not have accessed her 700 vacation photos. I still think the language of the e-mail suggests a teacher.
Maureen

Apteach

October 11th, 2011
11:17 am

@Maureen

Knowing the parties involved and living and working here in Barrow I am telling you that neither the superintendent or the principal involved would have given an anonymous email a second thought. The directive came from on high. Now how a board member got ahold of the info is debatable, could have been a coworker or parent. A lot of our board members have family members on the schools.

Why else do you think the system is fighting to keep it so quiet.?

But you believe what you want to.

Lori C

October 11th, 2011
12:11 pm

I would LOVE to know what Barrow County has to say about PSC not finding cause. Thank you Maureen for following this story. As a Barrow County parent, I would like to see the county do right by this young woman. I just read your original story and I, too, believe it was written by a teacher not a parent.

Thinker

October 11th, 2011
12:33 pm

Do you question why one side continues to play this out in the press while the other side is quiet and winning all the legal issues? Makes you think that maybe all the info coming out is only from one side and there might be some other facts that the press/public is not aware of? You think maybe the former teacher realized she can’t get another job teaching and is hoping to make enough noise that she will get a financial settlement even though she won’t win anything in court? Seriously, stop and think.

Answer Grape

October 11th, 2011
12:55 pm

I agree with Phil Osopher and Oh Maureen!, and would like to add a few additional thoughts.

To begin with, there are tenure rules and fair dismissal procedures in effect for most public school teachers that have been on the books for years. It is incredibly difficult to terminate a poor teacher because of these laws – would you like a teacher teaching your child who could not balance the grades in her gradebook or who thought that Africa was a single country? (These are real cases that went to FEDERAL court – can you believe it?) No, the answer is not in new or different laws to protect teachers. In addition, you have to remember that SHE QUIT. Most employers will not allow an employee who terminated his or her own employment back on the team after that, whatever the reason. Would you? Finally, you have to wonder why this teacher could not find a job in any of the 15 metro Atlanta counties in the last 2 years, most of which have shortages and would love to get a qualified teacher in their classrooms. Might it be because she – in her attempt to pursue what will likely be a completely ineffective lawsuit – brought everyone’s attention to her incredibly poor judgment? This is not a case of a teacher being blackballed for exposing a cheating scandal or for ratting out a fellow teacher for a sexual dalliance with a student – it is a case of what appears to be immaturity, naivete, and poor judgment by the teacher that the school district is now being asked to pay for.

Single Complainer

October 11th, 2011
1:07 pm

I think red shirts signify communism!!! Who do I call to get her fired? And she’s SMILING!! Communism is NOT funny!
Except for my first grade teacher, teachers are human. By this action, are we saying as a society that teachers cannot go have a drink once in a while? Play Bingo – no matter the added name. Anyone with the job of dealing with kids all day NEEDS a drink. Whomever sent the email needs to get over themselves, and get some professional help.

Good Mother

October 11th, 2011
1:13 pm

Why even have a Facebook account and twitter? Do we really NEED one? No.

It’s nice for my friends to find me on Face book but I am not naive enough to think that my friends might not copy and paste and share my information with others (even innocently.)

So for everyone, but especially teachers, just don’t post any pictures on Facebook or other social media with anything anyone would object to and don’t use profanity on a social media site.

This teacher’s situation was completely avoidable. Some common sense, a little propriety and a dash of discretion is in order here.

Lori C

October 11th, 2011
2:33 pm

*GoodMother* the teachers profile was set to PRIVATE. Are you suggesting that she can’t do as she pleases in private? She did not have any students or parents on her friends list. One should be able to expect that the people on her friends list (co-workers) would not shove a knife in her back. This case simply proves that teachers and those in the administration are ruthless. I’m more concerned about the morality of another teacher or admin sending the email than what the teacher was doing. Personally it unnerves me to think that the very people that will be teaching my child at Apalachee HS may be so dirty handed as this.

To Lori C from Good Mother

October 11th, 2011
3:11 pm

Lori, I guess you are completely naive.

Just because you set your setting to “private” doesn’t mean you have privacy nor does it mean somene shoves a knife in anyone’s back.

Anyone who has access to anyone else’s account can copy and paste from that account — even innocently (”look how pretty her hair looks/how happy she looks”) and that picture gets sent around and then someone who doesn’t know the teacher well may find it objectionable. That’s life.

What is incredible is that anyone would be naive enough to believe that Facebook is in any way private.

It’s a lesson to everyone. Keep your pictures off of Facebook. Use an iconic image instead (flower/symbol) or nothing at all and watch your language.

Facebook and other social media are also prime breeding grounds for identity thieves, burglas, rapists and so on.

Keep your private life private and you wont’ have the issues this teacher has experienced.

Recession

October 11th, 2011
3:35 pm

There may be “teacher shortages” all over Georgia, but districts have certainly NOT been hiring many teachers in the past two years. There are many news stories out there about districts laying off large numbers of teachers for budgetary reasons.

Biased much?

October 11th, 2011
5:56 pm

Is gender and race driving this unrelenting advocacy for Ashley Payne on the part of the blog moderator?

Not that she’s wrong, as it’s repugnant what happened to Payne, but given other egregious events that happen to teachers with little or no comment, it is curious, to say the least.

Archie@Arkham Asylum

October 11th, 2011
8:55 pm

I have been following this case from the outset. The e-mail (supposedly from a parent) is the “smoking gun.” You would think an e-mail could be traced, like a ‘phone call, but that has not happened. Whether this disappearance of the crucial e-mail was due to a technical glitch or intentional, it is not for me to say. It would not surprise me if another teacher did write that e-mail. Malicious, spiteful people do exist in the teaching profession, trust me! If we had merit pay in this state, the backstabbing would be even worse than it is now. I believed then and I believe now, that Ms. Payne got a raw deal but the administrators involved seem to have acted within the legal parameters of dealing with a second-year, non-tenured teacher. However, in this particular case, the distance between what is legal and what is fair is pretty staggering!