A former school secretary in Harlingen, TX sued the school district for firing him over a racist post on the social medium Facebook. Courthouse News Service reported that Abel Gonzalez believes that his right of free speech was infringed upon by the Harlingen Consolidated Independent School District.
Gonzales’ suit, which was filed in the Federal Court in Brownsville on Monday, said, “On Saturday, August 25, 2012 at 9:08 a.m., plaintiff was at home on his own personal computer, when plaintiff received an e-mail from the Huffington Post’s Facebook page.”
“The Facebook page had a picture of a little girl chasing President Obama in the Oval Office and beneath the picture were the words, ‘Caption this,’” the complaint continued. “Plaintiff wrote ‘Run Nigger Run.’”
A commenter on Huffington Post’s page named C. Orlando Pettiford saw Rodriguez’ racist post and copied and pasted it to the Dr. Rodriguez Elementary School Facebook page, the school where Gonzales worked as a secretary.
“It is important to note that Mr. Pettiford is an African-American from Pennsylvania,” the suit alleged.
On the same day, school principal Tracy Gonzalez [no relation to the plaintiff] received notice about the racist post.
“Ms. Gonzalez viewed the photo Mr. Pettiford had re-posted from the Huffington Post Facebook page and read the comment made by Mr. Pettiford,” the suit stated. “Mr. Pettiford wrote ‘Click on the above picture…then read the COMMENT made by one of your directors!!! ABEL GONZALEZ!!! Is this what you are teaching your students? Is this the RACISM that you want AMERICANS to have!!! I think he should be FIRED!!!”
When the school did not respond, Pettiford threatened to take the issue to the media, writing, “I hope this matter is being taken seriously…because I think that the TV stations might find this newsworthy.”
Principal Gonzales ordered the school’s computer technician to remove the comment from the school’s Facebook page and told Abel Gonzalez to make his Facebook page private.
Pettiford, however, continued to question the school about its handling of the issue.
“Mr. Pettiford called [the principal] at approximately 9:30 a.m. Plaintiff answered the phone since he was the secretary,” the complaint read. “Mr. Pettiford questioned whether plaintiff was the one who posted the caption on the Huffington Post Facebook page, and plaintiff told him yes. Plaintiff then stated ‘I am sorry if the comment offended you.’ Mr. Pettiford told plaintiff, ‘It may be deleted but not forgotten.’”
Pettiford continued to post comments on the school’s Facebook page and demanded to speak to the principal. Meanwhile, another caller named Todd Hollis called the school and spoke to an assistant principal about the matter.
On September 7, 2012, School Superintendent Steve Flores placed Gonzales on administrative leave. Two weeks later, Gonzales was fired.
He is suing the school district for $2 million in damages for “conspiracy, civil rights violations and violations of the First Amendment and due process violations, with an emphasis on the First Amendment claims,” said CNS.
The school district issued a statement through spokesperson Shane Strubhart that said, “Mr. Gonzales is no longer an employee at the Harlingen Consolidated Independent School District and the allegations raised in the filed lawsuit are unfounded. As this matter involves litigation and personnel matters, our school district cannot and will not comment further.”
David Ferguson is an editor at Raw Story. He was previously writer and radio producer in Athens, Georgia, hosting two shows for Georgia Public Broadcasting and blogging at Firedoglake.com and elsewhere. He is currently working on a book.
Raw Story is a progressive news site that focuses on stories often ignored in the mainstream media. While giving coverage to the big stories of the day, we also bring our readers' attention to policy, politics, legal and human rights stories that get ignored in an infotainment culture driven solely by pageviews.
Founded in 2004, Raw Story reaches 9 million unique readers per month and serves more than 30 million pageviews.