(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch announced yesterday that it has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of Palatine, Illinois tenured high school teacher Jeanne Hedgepeth, who was fired by the suburban-Chicago school district where she had worked for 20 years after posting comments on Facebook criticizing the riots, violence, and shootings in Chicago in the aftermath of the May 25, 2020, killing of George Floyd. Hedgepeth made the posts on her personal Facebook page while vacationing after the end of the school year, just as some of the most severe violence was occurring. In her posts, Hedgepeth recommended studying Thomas Sowell, whom she described as a “treasure” and a “truth seeker,” and praised political commentator and activist Candice Owens and talk show host Larry Elder. She alleges that the firing violated her First Amendment rights.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, seeks damages from the school district, Township High School District 211, and district board members and officials who participated directly in the firing (Hedgepeth v. Britton et al. (Case No. 1:21-cv-03890)).
The lawsuit explains:
In late May and early June 2020, Hedgepeth was vacationing in Florida after the end of the 2019-20 school year when violent street protests, rioting, looting, and shootings erupted in Chicago and many other U.S. cities in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd on May 25, 2020 by Minneapolis police officers. In Chicago alone, 82 persons were shot, 19 fatally, over the May 30-31, 2020 weekend. On May 31, 2020, which the Chicago Sun Times described as the most violent day Chicago had seen in 60 years, Mayor Lori Lightfoot asked Governor J.B. Pritzker to deploy the Illinois National Guard in the city.
That same day, May 31, 2020, Hedgepeth posted the following photos of herself on the beach in Florida along with the comment, “I don’t want to go home tomorrow. Now that the civil war has begun I want to move.”
An individual responded, “Follow your gut! Move!!!!!!!!!” Hedgepeth answered, “I need a gun and training.” The individual replied, “me too!”
Another individual posted a meme that same day suggesting that the riots could be stopped with a septic tank truck and a pressure cannon. Hedgepeth reposted the meme, obviously in jest, adding, “You think this would work?”
On or about June 1, 2020, Hedgepeth posted the following comment on Facebook in the course of an exchange of posts begun the previous day with a third individual:
I am about facts, truth seeking and love. I will speak on any topic I choose because I live in a free country. I find the term “white privilege” as racist as the “N” word. You have not walked in my shoes either so do not make assumptions about me and my so called privilege. You think America is racist? Then you have been hoodwinked by the white liberal establishment and race baiters like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. Travel the world and go see that every nation has racism and some more than others but few make efforts such as we do to mitigate or eliminate it. I have lived and seen. The people I am informed by about the black experience in America are actually some of the smartest people in America. And it so happens they are black. I highly recommend studying Thomas Sowell, who is now retired and in his 80’s. A treasure. A truth seeker. [D]oes REAL research and analysis. Candice Owens is one of the smartest and most courageous women in America and Larry Elders speaks the truth with a great sense of humor and FACTS not feelings. They are who I listen to when it comes to facts about the black experience in America. Don’t you think there is a deeper problem than racism when 50% of murders in America are committed by 13% of the population? Do you think there might be a subtle genocide of black babies when most planned parenthoods are put in poor neighborhoods and that 30% of abortions are black babies. [B]lack women only make up 7% of the U.S. population. The greatest power you have is what you believe about yourself. [W]hat have Democrats, mainstream media and intellectuals in ivory towers been telling the black community to believe about themselves for forty years? Wake up and stop believing them, then things will change.
All of Hedgepeth’s posts were on her personal Facebook page. None of Hedgepeth’s posts identified her as a teacher or a District 211 employee, nor did Hedgepeth post them in her capacity as a teacher or a District 211 employee. None of the persons with whom Hedgepeth exchanged Facebook posts were current District 211 or Palatine High School teachers, staff, or students.
Upon returning from her vacation in early June 2020, Hedgepeth learned that the school district was investigating her for her Facebook posts. She was fired by the school board six weeks later, on July 16, 2020, by a vote of 5-2. In her defense, Hedgepeth noted that the posts were on her personal Facebook page and were made “out of school.” She also expressly invoked her First Amendment rights.
“The school district took what could have been a teachable moment about respecting diversity of viewpoints and turned it into a clear civil rights violation,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “Jeanne Hedgepeth had every right to express herself freely and openly on her personal Facebook page, outside of school, about matters of undeniable public concern. Firing her for opposing lawlessness, speaking out about gun rights, praising black conservatives, and criticizing Democrats and tenets of Critical Racial Theory violated the First Amendment, and the school district and district officials who did so will be held accountable.”
Judicial Watch is being assisted by attorney Christine Svenson of Palatine, Illinois.