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Federal judge rules against New Jersey employee's rights

A decision handed down by a federal judge has diminished employee rights in New Jersey, or rather clarified what is and is not a right. A case that has drawn on for nearly three years has come to a close in a resolution that is sure to leave many with mixed feelings. The dispute originated three years ago in December of 2013 when a school teacher displayed pictures of her relatives dressed up in blackface to her students. The display involved Dutch holiday customs, which the teacher's relatives were observing.

The teacher filed suit after being reprimanded for the display, claiming that her first amendment rights were violated by being called out for showing the pictures to her class. She contended that it should not have fallen under the school's bullying policy to show the picture, since it was in the context of a discussion of piece by satirical author David Sedaris, discussing the Dutch tradition of Zwarte Piet, a black man who is often depicted as following around Santa Claus. When an African American student expressed that the picture was offensive, the teacher claimed that she was simply displaying cultural differences around the world, and also stated that Holland had done away with slavery prior to the United States.

After filing a complaint with her union, an arbitrator determined that the reprimand should be redacted from the teacher's file, which was upheld by a Superior Court judge. However, the Federal judge handing down the overturned decision noted primarily that the matter was important because it defines that a public school classroom is not truly a public forum in the legal sense, and that the teacher was speaking as an employee of the school.

While the issue is still not clear cut, the court decision has added more precedent to the law and minimized some areas of employee rights. If you believe that you have been the victim of an employee's rights violation, then you deserve to have your case heard fairly. An experienced attorney can help you evaluate your case and ensure that your rights remain protected.

Source: New Jersey Law Journel, "Judge Tosses Teacher's First Amendment Suit Over Blackface Photo," Charles Toutant, Nov. 23, 2016

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