Chad Bishop was a teacher at The Bishop’s School for 16 years. In March 2019, Bishop entered into a contract as an English teacher for the 2019-20 academic year. In September 2019, Bishop and Kendall Forte, a 19-year-old former student of the School who had graduated the previous June, exchanged “flirtatious” text messages with one another. Forte had posted an altered version of the texts on social media, and the School received communications from concerned parents about the incident. The School terminated Bishop’s employment shortly thereafter for violating the School’s policies and conduct expectations and related reasons. Bishop filed a lawsuit against the School for breach of contract and the Head of School (Ron Kim) for defamation. In response, defendants filed a motion to strike the first amended complaint under the anti-SLAPP statute as well as a demurrer. The trial court granted the anti-SLAPP motion as to the defamation claim, but denied it as to the contract claim.
The Court of Appeal affirmed dismissal of the defamation claim against Kim on the ground that Kim’s statement to the school newspaper about the reasons for Bishop’s termination constituted speech in connection with the issue of public interest of student safety and was entitled to anti-SLAPP protection. The Court further held that Bishop could not establish a probability that he could prevail on the defamation claim because he could present no evidence that Kim had made a false and defamatory statement about Bishop. The Court also held that neither the termination letter nor the termination itself was protected speech under the anti-SLAPP statute.