A federal appeals court has upheld the dismissal of an Illinois high school guidance counselor over his self-publication of a purported relationship-advice book for women with sexually frank passages and indications that the counselor had a “tendency to objectify” women.
The case concerns Bryan Craig, a tenured guidance counselor and girls’ basketball coach at Rich Central High School in the Chicago suburbs of Olympia Fields. In 2012, Craig self-published a book titled It’s Her Fault, a 60-page collection of relationship advice aimed at women, which court papers say was inspired by his years of counseling and interaction with women, including from his school counseling job.
Along with what the court called “garden-variety” advice, the book has sexually explicit passages advising women on how they could use “sex appeal” to gain power in their relationships with men. The book encourages women to engage in “a certain level of promiscuity before marriage,” but not to “go hoeing[sic] around the world.”
Craig describes himself in the book as “beyond the highest caliber of men,” but still confesses “a weakness for cleavage” and other parts of the female anatomy.
Significantly for the case, Craig references his employment as a school counselor throughout the book, writing that his dealings with females in his school office, in counseling sessions, and in coaching the girls’ basketball teams helped inform his views.
When administrators in Rich Township High School District 227 learned of the book, they told Craig they had heard concerns from the community. They recommended him for discharge on three grounds: that the book had caused disruption in the community, that it created a hostile educational environment, and that Craig failed to present himself as a positive role model.
In September 2012, the Rich Township school board voted to discharge Craig.
The counselor sued the district, alleging that he was retaliated against for the protected exercise of the First Amendment free speech rights.
A federal district court ruled against Craig on the basis that his book did not deserve First Amendment protection because it was not on a matter of public concern.
In its Dec. 3 decision in Craig v. Rich Township High School District 227, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, in Chicago, unanimously ruled against the counselor as well, though on different grounds.
The court said that “viewed as a whole, It’s Her Fault addresses adult relationship dynamics, a subject that interests a significant segment of the public. ... The fact that Craig’s book dealt with a subject of general interest to the public was enough to establish prima facie First Amendment protection.”
However, the appeals court went on to rule that the school district was still justified in discharging Craig because its interests in restricting his speech outweighed his free speech interests.
The school district’s “assessment of how Craig’s students, and particularly his female students, would respond upon reading or hearing about the hypersexualized content of his book looms large in our analysis,” the 7th Circuit court said. “The fact that Craig works closely with students at a public school as a counselor confers upon him an inordinate amount of trust and authority.”
“We can easily see how female students may feel uncomfortable seeking advice from Craig given his professed inability to refrain from sexualizing females,” the court added. “Knowing Craig’s tendency to objectify women, [the district] could reasonably anticipate that some female students would feel uncomfortable reaching out to Craig for advice. ... Defendants had an interest in terminating Craig’s employment in order to ensure effective delivery of counseling services to female students at Rich Central.”
A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.