Auon'tai Anderson, Denver Public Schools to pay $25K to settle lawsuit on Facebook blocking

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Posted at 1:49 PM, Apr 08, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-09 16:53:37-04

DENVER — Auon'tai Anderson and Denver Public Schools (DPS) will pay a combined $25,000 to settle a lawsuit that was filed in 2023 after Anderson blocked a DPS parent on Facebook.

Eve Chen, represented by Mari Newman and Andy McNulty of the Newman | McNulty law firm, will receive all of that money.

Anderson was vice president of the Denver Public Schools board at the time.

This case started when Chen wrote a reply in the comment section of one of Anderson's posts about transparency in government. Her reply read, "Where can I email to ask for an unredacted investigation reported against you as a tax payer? As a taxpayer i think I am entitled to read that too." Anderson deleted the comment and blocked her. Chen claimed that she was deprived of her constitutional rights and filed a lawsuit in September 2023.

The parties reached a settlement-in-principle on Feb. 20, 2024 to avoid continuing litigation.

"This was a clear and blatant violation of the First Amendment," lawyers Mari Newman and Andy McNulty said. "Because his actions were obviously unconstitutional, Anderson agreed to enter into a court order that made him unblock Ms. Chen and prohibits him from blocking Ms. Chen in the future. Then, DPS and Anderson paid Ms. Chen a combined $25,000 to settle her claims."

Within 30 days of receiving the payment, Chen will take all necessary steps to dismiss the lawsuit against the district, the settlement document reads. A stipulation document dated Nov. 30, 2023 reads that Anderson must unblock and unban Chen from his official Facebook page and must not re-block her account or delete her comments as long as he is on the Denver School Board or in another elected office. Anderson did not seek re-election on the school board.

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"Anderson was employing a familiar playbook used by authoritarian leaders across the globe, from Donald Trump to Vladimir Putin, and we are glad to get a result that puts an end to these tactics by him," McNulty said. "Other officials across the state should take notice and immediately cease any efforts to censor people online or prepare to face the same consequences."

Anderson issued the below statement on Tuesday about the settlement:

"I am grateful that both Denver Public Schools and I have resolved the ongoing litigation with Ms.Chen. While this resolution came at the expense of tax-payer dollars that could have been directed elsewhere, I hope Ms. Chen has the money she needs to now take care of herself and her family. Individuals who are seeking financial support should not have to turn to frivolous lawsuits against elected officials but seek our help so that we can find them the resources that they need. Despite her claims, Ms. Chen was never entirely cut off from communication, maintaining open channels on several social media platforms. I believe that after the SCOTUS ruling, we would have eventually won the case against Ms. Chen." 

Chen filed the lawsuit in part to challenge a new Colorado law that would allow elected leaders to ban anyone from their private social media accounts, according to our partners at the Denver Post.

In early March, Chalkbeat Colorado reported that amid ongoing court cases about public officials’ use of social media, the DPS board was considering a policy about when board members can and cannot delete comments or block people from commenting on their posts. Click here for more.

Victories and controversies: Auon'tai Anderson reflects on DPS Board term

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