A Utah public school teacher who is to reveal his homosexuality at a press conference Tuesday afternoon could risk losing his job.
The Utah Human Rights Coalition has called a press conference at 3:30 p.m. at the state Capitol to introduce a Gay, Lesbian and Straight Teachers' Alliance. A press release issued Monday indicates a number of public school educators will reveal they are gay during the event.Case law on the conduct of public employees suggests that the state's interest outweighs a teacher's interest when expression of a First Amendment freedom results in a "material or substantial interference or disruption in the normal activities of the school."
"If these teachers come out and the result is a school is subject to greater disruption or turmoil, that could be found to violate the holdings of Connick and as well as National Gay Task Force," said Doug Bates, attorney for the Utah State Board of Education, referring to two court cases that address First Amendment freedom of public employees.
Charlene Orchard of the Utah Human Rights Coalition said the teacher is aware of the consequences. "I think he feels this is an issue of his own personal integrity. To hide a part of himself is not in the best interest of his teaching."
Orchard noted there is a great difference between conduct and identifying one's status. "Public schools are about all the public, not just part of the public."
One case, heard in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals and appealed to the Supreme Court, addressed an individual fired for "public homosexual activity."
National Gay Task Force vs. Board of Education of Oklahoma City defines homosexual activity as "advocating, soliciting, imposing, encouraging or promoting public or private homosexuality in a manner that creates a substantial risk that will come to the attention of school children or school employees."
The Supreme Court has confirmed the definition on a tie vote.
However, the court found that the employee's conduct did not constitute a "material or substantial interference or disruption in the normal activities of the school."
Another case involved a deputy district attorney in Louisiana who opposed an interoffice job transfer. The attorney, Sheila Myers, circulated a questionnaire among her co-workers that addressed employee morale, the office transfer policy, confidence in superiors and pressure to participate in political campaigns.
Myers was later dismissed and sued the office claiming she was exercising her right to free speech. A lower court agreed and awarded her damages. But an appellate court reversed the ruling, stating Myers was entitled to free speech protection when "commenting on matters of public concern and in the interest of an employer in promoting the efficiency of the public service it performs through its employees."
The court held that her dismissal "did not offend the First Amendment."