Brownsville settles with teacher over Facebook photo with stripper

A picture worth $10,000

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Ginger D'Amico didn't take the pictures, and she didn't post them on Facebook.

But her face was the only one clearly identifiable. And she paid the price.

A Spanish teacher in the Brownsville Area School District, she was suspended for 30 days without pay because a photograph of her with a stripper at a colleague's bachelorette party was posted on the popular social networking website.

On Tuesday, she said she felt vindicated, as she and her ACLU attorney announced a $10,000 settlement with the district, along with full back pay and a clearing of her disciplinary record.

"This was something completely innocent and got blown out of proportion," Ms. D'Amico said.

On Dec. 19, the former teacher of the year in Baltimore County, Md., hosted a bachelorette party for a fellow teacher at her home. The group hired a stripper, who was there for 30 minutes.

"He sat on everyone's lap, and we all laughed and giggled," she said. "No teacher took off their clothes, and no body parts were exposed."

By the next Monday, Ms. D'Amico heard that pictures from the party had been posted on a friend's Facebook page. By the time she called to ask that they be taken down, the woman had already removed them.

Several days after that, she learned from Superintendent Dr. Philip J. Savini Jr. that she would be disciplined.

Everyone who attended the party from the district was given a disciplinary letter. The letters were placed in their files. But Ms. D'Amico, who has taught for Brownsville for seven years, received a 30-day suspension because her face was the only one identifiable.

She described the picture in question as her "laughing," and "pushing" the stripper away.

She went to the ACLU, which began negotiating with the district. The suspension, which began Jan. 6, was reduced to 19 days, and ultimately, the case has now settled without a lawsuit being filed.

Ms. D'Amico will receive more than $4,000 back pay that was lost, along with splitting a $10,000 payment with the ACLU. The other teachers continue to fight their disciplinary letters through arbitration.

A call to the school district was not returned.

Witold Walczak, the legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania who represented Ms. D'Amico, said that this area of the law was not well developed.

The question of to what extent an employee must be held liable to an employer for conduct outside of work has not been clearly answered by the courts, he said. But what is clear is that the behavior in question has to substantially harm the employer or the employee's ability to do her job.

"In Ginger's case, she had nothing to do with these pictures being posted," Mr. Walczak said. "She did nothing to promote or publicize it."

With video recorders present in almost every cell phone, he said, "it's going to take time for the law to catch up with the technology."

Butch Santicola, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Educators Association, said teachers have to be careful in what photographs they take, what gets posted and where.

"This is something that's occurring with our members on an almost daily basis," Mr. Santicola said. "For some reason, our teachers are expected to be held to a different standard."


Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620.


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