Another professor sued Collin College, alleging free speech violations


On Tuesday, Dr Lora Burnett filed a lawsuit against his former employer, Collin College. The former history teacher alleges she was fired after using social media to comment on national policy and criticize the school’s COVID-19 response.

His trial comes at a time when Tory lawmakers are trying to tighten the reins on what can be taught in the classroom. But Burnett said good professors don’t imbue their personal political leanings in lectures.

“American history teachers are not what America needs to worry about,” she said. “America needs to be concerned about government agencies stifling the discourse of private citizens.”

Since last year, Collin College has made several headlines for its treatment of employees, with professors painting a portrait of a school in crisis. Several claimed the college fired them for criticizing its coronavirus policies. Others said they were targeted because of their involvement in a teachers’ union without collective bargaining.

In April, the American Allen reported that a Collin College administrator had filed formal complaints alleging retaliation and a dangerous work environment. Last month, a former teacher also filed a lawsuit against the school, citing several protected speech violations.

Now, after being slapped with another lawsuit, Collin College’s legal headache just keeps getting worse.

Last year, Burnett took to Twitter to castigate Mike Pence during the 2020 Vice Presidential Debates. After his tweets caught the attention of right-wing media like FOX, State Representative Jeff Leach, a Republican from Plano, then asked District President Neil Matkin about Burnett. Matkin has promised to “take care” of her.

Burnett also tweeted about another Collin College faculty member who died of COVID-19 and criticized Matkin for his response to the pandemic. Soon enough, she received a warning letter before she was finally released.

“It was a real blow. I mean, it was upsetting,” Burnett told the Observer this spring. “Teaching at Collin College is my dream job. ”

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a non-profit free speech campus, represents Burnett.

His lawsuit alleges Collin College and its board of trustees created an unconstitutional practice of firing teachers who speak out on matters of public interest in ways they disagree with. The school does not have a tenure by design system, so employees can be fired for “no reason at all.”

The lawsuit also claims that Burnett suffered irreparable injury and harm as a result of the deprivation of his constitutional rights to free speech. In addition to losing her salary, she also suffered from significant emotional distress.

“I can’t think of anything more important right now.” – Dr Lora Burnett

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Burnett believes she was fired for intimidating other teachers and silencing them, even though many academic freedom and free speech groups told the school she was violating the Constitution.

“It was not a negligent oversight on the part of the college. It was part of a long-standing pattern of behavior and practice, ”she said. “And because I wasn’t silent about what was happening to me, I think it really raised the stakes for the college in terms of defending their unconstitutional practice.”

Professors have the right to speak out on controversial issues without their employer punishing them for it, said Greg Greubel, litigation lawyer at FIRE. Educators cannot do their jobs effectively if they can be fired for views that do not match those of their administration.

If Burnett and others are unable to share informed opinions on public issues in the public sphere, it “weakens our whole democracy,” he said. It is unusual that so many teachers have accused the school of violating their First Amendment rights.

“You don’t see this every day. It shows me he’s more than a bad actor, ”said Greubel. “This is evidence of a custom or policy at Collin College that if you speak out against the administration your job is in jeopardy, which is an unconstitutional policy. ”

Collin College is dedicated to preserving employee rights and privileges, spokeswoman Marisela Cadena-Smith said via email. Board-approved procedures and policies are followed during reviews to determine whether contracts will be renewed.

“While it is unfortunate that a former faculty member has chosen to take legal action, the College remains firmly committed to our faculty review process and looks forward to defending our actions in court.” , she said. “Out of respect for our former employee and due to an ongoing litigation, we will not be making any further public statements on this matter.”

The college’s practice of bullying professors is being challenged in court, Burnett said. It will be interesting for Collin County taxpayers to learn how much of their money is being used to “defend an indefensible practice”.

This lawsuit is important to other teachers across the country, who may be intimidated into participating in a public debate outside of school hours, Burnett said.

She hopes the court will uphold the right to free speech, both for herself and for her former colleagues. For many, it has been too long since they have been able to speak out without fear.

“None of this has been easy. None of this was pleasant. And going through a trial won’t be pleasant or easy either, ”Burnett said.

“I can think of so many things that I would rather do,” she continued, “but I can’t think of anything more important right now.”

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