The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of a former science teacher who wore a “MAGA” hat inside a school building in Vancouver, Washington. The court ruled that wearing a hat in support of Donald Trump was protected speech under the First Amendment.
The case involved two instances in which teacherEric Dodge wore a “Make America Great Again” hat in 2019. Dodge first wore the hat at a staff-only cultural sensitivity and racial bias training that took place before the school year started.
Dodge’s lawsuit claimed that the school principal and human resources manager inflicted “emotional devastation.” He also claimed he suffered a “recurrence of debilitating stroke symptoms” after he was “verbally attacked and defamed” for his support of Trump.
The Columbian reported that Wy’east Middle School Principal Caroline Garrett told Dodge to exercise “better judgment.”
The Dec. 29 ruling ultimately decided that the school district did not have enough evidence of a “tangible disruption” to school operations to justify restricting Dodge’s free speech.
“That some may not like the political message being conveyed is par for the course and cannot itself be a basis for finding disruption of a kind that outweighs the speaker’s First Amendment rights,” Judge Danielle J. Forrest wrote in the opinion.
“Therefore, Principal Garrett’s asserted administrative interest in preventing disruption among staff did not outweigh plaintiff’s right to free speech.”
The ruling states that Garrett retaliated against Dodge, violating his First Amendment rights. It also found, however, that Evergreen Public Schools and its chief human resources officer Janae Gomes did not take improper action against Dodge. Dodge had filed a complaint with human resources following the dispute, later filing a federal lawsuit against Garrett, Gomez, and the district.
“Both Ms. Gomes and EPS at all times acted in Mr. Dodge’s best interests,” the ruling stated.
Garrett resigned from the district in April 2020 near the same time he filed the suit, according to court documents. He alleged that the incident prevented him from continuing to be employed with the district.
“People who are public employees enjoy certain First Amendment rights,” Estok said. “They shouldn’t be targeted or treated differently because they have certain political viewpoints. That’s what’s going on here,” Dodge’s attorney Michael Estok said.