In 2012, Bryan Craig, a tenured guidance counselor and girls’ basketball coach at Rich Central High School outside of Chicago, self-published a book containing adult relationship advice entitled “It’s Her Fault.” In this book, Craig sought to give advice to women regarding how to develop better relationships with men. While some of Craig’s advice is rather mundane, much of the book discusses sexually explicit material. Craig encourages promiscuity before marriage and female submissiveness, and uses sexually explicit terminology throughout the book. Craig cites his employment at Rich Central High School as a counselor and girls’ basketball coach as part of his qualifications to give such advice.
School officials eventually learned about Craig’s book, and on September 18, 2012, the school board terminated Craig’s employment based on charges (1) that the book had caused disruption and concern in the school’s community; (2) that the book created an intimidating and offensive educational environment; and (3) that Craig had failed to present himself as a positive role model for students. Craig filed a lawsuit in federal district court against the school board under 42 U.S.C. section 1983, alleging that he was retaliated against for exercising his First Amendment rights. The court dismissed his lawsuit, ruling that Craig was not entitled to First Amendment protection because his book did not address a matter of public concern, and Craig appealed to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.
On December 3, 2013, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Craig v. Rich Township High School District 227, affirming the dismissal of Craig’s complaint but basing its decision on a different analysis than that of the trial court. The Seventh Circuit explained that a First Amendment retaliation claim by a public employee requires that the speech being retaliated against be constitutionally protected, meaning that it must involve a matter of public concern. However, for speech to be a matter of public concern does not mean that it must be of global significance, but only that it deal with a subject of general interest to the public. The Seventh Circuit found that Craig’s book dealt with a topic of general interest to the public (relationships between men and women) and as such, was sufficient to establish prima facie First Amendment protection.
However, the Court affirmed the dismissal of Craig’s claim finding that the school district’s interest in restricting Craig’s speech outweighed his interest in making his views known. The Court explained that the government (the school district in this case) is entitled to restrict speech that addresses public concern if it can show that the interest of the public employee (Craig) as a citizen commenting on the matter is outweighed by the interest of the employer in promoting effective and efficient public service. In this case, the Court found that the school district’s interests in remedying the potential disruption caused by the book outweighed Craig’s speech interest. The Court agreed with the school district’s arguments that students, particularly female students, might be unwilling to come to him for advice upon learning about the book’s content, thus preventing him from effectively doing his job. In addition, the school district feared that the book would interfere with the school’s learning environment as students and parents became aware of the book. The contents of Craig’s book related to issues for which high school students might seek advice from their guidance counselor, and the school district’s interest in protecting the integrity of these counseling services outweighed Craig’s interest in publishing this book. As such, Craig’s dismissal was affirmed.