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Givhan v. Western Line Consolidated School District

439 U.S. 410, 99 S. Ct. 693, 58 L. Ed. 2d 619 (1979)

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Givhan v. Western Line Consolidated School District

United States Supreme Court

439 U.S. 410, 99 S. Ct. 693, 58 L. Ed. 2d 619 (1979)

Facts

Bessie Givhan (plaintiff) was a junior-high-school English teacher in the Western Line Consolidated School District (the district) (defendant). At the end of the 1971 school year, the district declined to renew Givhan’s contract based on interactions between Givhan and her school’s principal. During the interactions, Givhan complained about what she believed to be racially discriminatory employment policies and practices at her school. The principal characterized Givhan’s demands as petty and unreasonable and described Givhan as insulting, loud, hostile, and arrogant. The district was involved in a desegregation action in a Mississippi federal district court at the time, and Givhan intervened in the action, alleging, among other things, that her termination had violated her right of free speech under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Following a bench trial on Givhan’s allegations, the district court found that the primary reason for the district’s decision not to renew Givhan’s contract was her criticism of the district’s policies and practices. The court thus held that Givhan’s termination violated Givhan’s First Amendment rights and ordered that Givhan be reinstated. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed, holding that Givhan’s expression was not protected under the First Amendment because she had only expressed her complaints privately to the principal. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Rehnquist, J.)

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