Former teacher sues county board of education for free speech violations

By Kyla Asbury | Jan 11, 2019

HUNTINGTON — A former Huntington High School teacher who was fired for making racially charged tweets is suing the Cabell County Board of Education and the state superintendent of schools for violating her civil rights.

Former Cabell County superintendent Todd Alexander was also named as a defendant in the suit.

Mary Durstein was a world history teacher at Huntington High and on Jan. 9, 2017, she was summoned to the principal's office where Alexander showed her several of the posts she'd made on Twitter over the last 18 months and told her she needed to shut down her Twitter account immediately, according to a complaint filed Jan. 8 in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia.

After Durstein deactivated her Twitter account, Alexander told her she was not allowed to speak to the media and put her on administrative leave with pay, according to the suit.

Durstein claims some of the remarks about her attributed by news reports to the superintendent and to the director of communications were harsh enough that any reasonable person in her circumstances would feel compelled to publicly respond to protect reputation and esteem.

But Durstein, a former journalist, complied with Alexander's demand and did not speak to any news organizations about the matter, according to the suit.

On Jan. 24, 2017, Durstein received a letter that her suspension was continuing without pay, according to the suit.

Durstein's employment was officially terminated on March 6, 2017, during a board meeting. Durstein appealed the termination to the West Virginia Education and State Grievance Board, but the board upheld her termination.

The defendants violated Dustein's right to free speech, according to the suit.

Durstein had Twitter since 2008 and had accumulated between 20 and 30 followers who shared her same views, according to the suit. Durstein claimed she posted many tweets and re-tweets involving politics and from conservatives. She claimed all of her tweets were done on her own time and were done on electronics that she personally owned.

Her tweets included a re-tweet of Ann Coulter's in which Coulter posted a photo of Muslim women with the words, "deport them," and one where Durstein called Muslim people "the enemy."

Durstein claimed the school board had a history of making teachers delete their personal social media accounts for expressing views that were not the same as theirs.

Durstein is seeking compensatory and punitive damages. She is represented by Michael S. Bailey of Bailey Legal Services and David Marburger of Marburger Law.

U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia Case number: 3:19-cv-00029

Want to get notified whenever we write about U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia Huntington Division ?

Sign-up Next time we write about U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia Huntington Division, we'll email you a link to the story. You may edit your settings or unsubscribe at any time.

Organizations in this Story

U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia Huntington Division

More News

The Record Network