If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say . . .
Like many people nowadays, Natalie Munroe had a blog where she shared tips about cooking and child rearing. The high school English teacher from Doylestown, PA, also used her blog to sound off about her students, referring to them as “jerks,” “rat-like,” and “frightfully dim.” Her students’ parents fared no better on her blog; she wrote that parents were “breeding a disgusting brood of insolent, unappreciative, selfish brats.” In one post, Munroe made a list of comments she wished she could write about her students including “a complete and utter jerk in all ways,” “though academically ok, your kid has no other redeeming qualities,” “liar and cheater,” and “utterly loathsome in all imaginable ways.”
Students started sharing the blog posts on social media. Once the school administration caught wind of the blog in February 2011, Munroe was placed on an immediate, unpaid suspension. By that time Munroe’s plight had been covered by several major news outlets and her appearances on television did nothing but fan the flames. After taking a maternity leave for the rest of the semester, Munroe returned to work in August 2011. In the meantime, she received her first-ever negative performance evaluation from the Superintendent. She continued to receive negative evaluations after her return to work and was required to submit overly detailed lesson plans. Munroe was terminated on June 26, 2012 for her supposed poor performance and she filed suit alleging that the school district retaliated against her for her exercise of her First Amendment rights.
In Munroe v. Central Bucks School District, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of PA granted summary judgment to the school district on July 25, 2014, meaning that Munroe could not pursue her case. It is well settled that a public employee’s speech is protected when he or she speaks as a private citizen upon a matter of public concern and the employee’s interest in exercising his or her First Amendment rights is greater than the employer’s interest in the efficient operation of the public agency. Unfortunately for Munroe, the court found that while her blog occasionally touched upon matters of public concern, the harm caused by the blog’s “personal invective” outweighed the potential public value of her other posts. The court noted that Munroe’s speech, “in both effect and tone, was sufficiently disruptive so as to diminish any legitimate interest in its expression, and thus her expression was not protected.” The lesson for public employees here is that if you want to join the blogosphere, stick to sharing your best zucchini bread recipes.
Policing and Emergency Medical Services
The nature of policing is evolving again as departments are getting more involved in providing emergency medical services. Traditionally the police service has focused on responding to criminal acts, investigating them, and arresting the perpetrators. That concept changed somewhat with the advent of community policing which asked officers to involve themselves with the community in ways that might prevent crime or assist in investigating it. The dramatic change is that now departments are asking police officers to make their first priority the delivery of emergency services, ahead of and even to the exclusion of investigation of crime. Such a change will require a significant change in the skills and the mindset of the patrol officer.
The change in policing arises first from the introduction of three new technologies. First on the scene was the AED (Automated External Defibrillator). This is the device which delivers an electrical charge to the heart of a person suffering from cardiac arrest. Its use requires a determination that the subject is suffering from cardiac arrest. The second new technology is the nasal Narcan. This device allows the officer to spray a chemical into the nose of a person suffering from an overdose of heroin or other opioid and to instantly revive him. This requires the officer to make a determination that the subject is suffering from an overdose. Finally, there is the epi-pen which is used to inject epinephrine into the muscle of a person suffering from an allergic reaction. Use of this device also requires the medical determination that the person is indeed suffering an allergic reaction. Some departments are now requiring officers to carry some of these devices in their cruisers for use in the appropriate circumstances.
However, the truly dramatic change in policing comes from the recently enacted statute, Massachusetts General Law Chapter 94, Section 34A which immunizes from prosecution both an addict suffering the overdose and the person who calls for medical assistance. When a police officer is called to the scene of an overdose, the purpose of the response is no longer the investigation of a crime; the purpose is now to furnish medical care. The assumption by police of this new, different, and complex responsibility adds value to their service to the community and is worthy of additional compensation. While there are not yet many examples of police unions which have bargained benefits for medical services, our firm has negotiated the following provisions for our clients:
Weymouth Police 3% Medical Technology premium
Gloucester Police 1% Narcan; $725 Defibrillator premiums
Braintree Police $600 Defibrillator (expires in July 2014)
Brookline Police $400 Defibrillator premium
Peabody Police $500 Defibrillator premium
 Section 34A. (a) A person who, in good faith, seeks medical assistance for someone experiencing a drug-related overdose shall not be charged or prosecuted for possession of a controlled substance under sections 34 or 35 if the evidence for the charge of possession of a controlled substance was gained as a result of the seeking of medical assistance.
(b) A person who experiences a drug-related overdose and is in need of medical assistance and, in good faith, seeks such medical assistance, or is the subject of such a good faith request for medical assistance, shall not be charged or prosecuted for possession of a controlled substance under said sections 34 or 35 if the evidence for the charge of possession of a controlled substance was gained as a result of the overdose and the need for medical assistance.