Worker who threat­ened to crash into school bus gets job back

The Mercury (Pottstown, PA) - - NEWS - By Mark Scol­foro

HARRISBURG, PA. » A Penn­syl­va­nia high­way de­part­ment worker won her job back Tues­day af­ter be­ing fired for rant­ing on Face­book about lo­cal school bus drivers, in­clud­ing a warn­ing that she would hap­pily crash into a school bus.

Com­mon­wealth Court on Tues­day or­dered the re­in­state­ment of Rachel L. Carr as a Penn­syl­va­nia De­part­ment of Trans­porta­tion road­way pro­grams tech­ni­cian, rul­ing free speech pro­tec­tions out­weighed con­cerns about com­ments the judges de­scribed as “rep­re­hen­si­ble” and “ab­hor­rent.”

Carr was off duty and at home when she posted to the “Creeps of Peeps” site in May 2016 that school bus drivers in north­west­ern Penn­syl­va­nia, near the New York border, are “hor­ri­ble” and “hella scary.” She posted that ear­lier in the day “one asked me to tbone it.”

She used an ex­ple­tive to em­pha­size how lit­tle she cared “about those ba­bies and I will gladly smash into a school bus.” In re­sponse to oth­ers’ re­sponse on the Face­book group, she wrote that she cared about her own safety more than that of the chil­dren. Mem­bers of Creeps of Peeps re­ported her to Pen­nDOT, and she was fired af­ter an in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Judge Kevin Brob­son, writ­ing for the three-judge panel , said Carr’s com­ments merit spe­cial pro­tec­tion be­cause they address an is­sue of pub­lic con­cern.

“De­spite the in­cen­di­ary ver­biage Carr used, the main thrust of her re­marks cen­tered on the fact that a bus driver con­sis­tently en­gaged in dan­ger­ous driv­ing habits, thus ne­ces­si­tat­ing Carr to take eva­sive ma­neu­vers in re­sponse,” Brob­son wrote. “Carr’s com­ments served as a ver­bal man­i­fes­ta­tion of her frus­tra­tions in hav­ing to do so.”

Carr’s post re­ferred to school bus drivers as a group, say­ing they that if a ve­hi­cle pulls out in front of her or crosses a yel­low line, “that’s their prob­lem. A sedan, school bus or wa­ter truck. (Your) kids, your prob­lem. Not mine.”

A Pen­nDOT su­per­vi­sor said the agency was con­cerned that if she “acted on her threat of crash­ing into a school bus, the de­part­ment could be ex­posed to li­a­bil­ity for her ac­tions,” Brob­son re­counted.

“We con­clude that the de­part­ment’s gen­er­al­ized in­ter­est in the safety of the trav­el­ing pub­lic does not out­weigh Carr’s specific in­ter­est in com­ment­ing on the safety of a par­tic­u­lar bus driver,” the judge wrote. “While Carr’s com­ments are un­doubt­edly in­ap­pro­pri­ate, such com­ments still re­ceive pro­tec­tion un­der the First Amend­ment.”

Carr’s lawyer did not im­me­di­ate re­turn a phone mes­sage seek­ing com­ment. A Pen­nDOT spokesman de­clined com­ment on what he called a per­son­nel mat­ter. Asked if there were plans to ap­peal, he said the opin­ion was un­der le­gal eval­u­a­tion.

Carr was on pro­ba­tion at the time, hav­ing been pro­moted from tem­po­rary clerk to the $31,000-a-year road­way pro­grams tech­ni­cian job two months ear­lier. Road­way pro­grams tech­ni­cians mon­i­tor and re­port data to help agency op­er­a­tions. She was fired in June 2016.

The case was sent to the Civil Ser­vice Com­mis­sion with di­rec­tion to re­in­state her and “ex­er­cise its dis­cre­tion” re­gard­ing pay­ment of salary or lost wages. A sec­tion of her law­suit that alleged vi­o­la­tion of her free speech rights re­mains pend­ing be­fore Com­mon­wealth Court.

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