Elena Dinverno, a parent of two children in Rochester Community Schools, has sued the school district, claiming the board president contacted her employer and got her fired for posting content on social media urging school reopening.
Dinverno filed a civil lawsuit Monday in U.S. District Court in Detroit against board president Kristin Bull, the Oakland County district, and superintendent Robert Shaner, arguing they violated her first amendment right to free speech, The Detroit News reported.
According to the lawsuit, Dinverno was an active member of two Facebook groups, “RCS Parents for In-Person Education” and “Conservative Parents for Rochester,” that regularly criticized the school district’s conduct and leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic. In one of the groups, Dinverno requested video testimonials from parents and students struggling with the challenges of virtual learning and remote instruction.
The suit alleges that a board member called her place of work, Blake’s Hard Cider Co. in Armada, and accused Dinverno of threatening the school district by engaging in her online Facebook forums. The company subsequently terminated Dinverno’s employment on December 18, the lawsuit said.
Dinverno said the district issued her a cease-and-desist letter on Jan. 14 stating that the input she offered to the board and messaging she wrote in the Facebook groups were “false and are injurious to the Board, and threaten further injury if left uncorrected.”
The parent alleges that Bull threatened to rescind a “40 under 40” award for Andrew Blake, the hard cider company president, if he did not address Dinverno’s activity online relating to advocating for school reopening.
Dinverno says that Blake’s human resources manager instructed her to “…watch what she was saying in the online forums.”
Her lawyer, Deborah Gordon, said, “This is a government entity for which you are entitled to your First Amendment rights, unless someone is using threatening language. But over offering up an opinion? There have zero business policing her speech.”
Dinverno’s attorneys argue that her speech was constitutionally protected and that the defendants infringed upon her liberties by pressuring and threatening her employer “with adverse professional ramifications.”
Lawyers for Dinverno have claimed that the school district often contacts the occupations of parents who object to school board decisions “in an attempt to coerce, threaten, or manipulate said employers to dissociate themselves with the parents and encouraging employers to take adverse employment actions against the parents.”