‘Butt artist’ reaches $65,000 settlement with former employer

Associated Press Writer

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A Virginia man fired from his job as a high school art teacher after a video of his work as a so-called “butt-printing artist” surfaced on the Internet has reached a $65,000 settlement with his former employer.

The agreement comes more than a year after Stephen Murmer was fired by the Chesterfield County School Board from his job at Monacan High School for his private artwork, much of which includes smearing his posterior and genitals with paint and pressing them against canvas. The unanimous decision came in January 2007 after a YouTube video surfaced that showed him demonstrating his unusual painting technique.

In the video, Murmer is shown wearing a black swim thong, a Groucho Marx fake-nose mask and a towel on his head.

Murmer, who now lives in Alabama, said in a statement that he hoped his case would make schools think twice before firing a teacher for expressing himself outside the classroom.

Telephone and e-mail messages left for Murmer by The Associated Press seeking additional comment were not immediately returned.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Richmond last October, alleging that Murmer’s First Amendment rights had been violated.

“The fact that some administrators were offended by Stephen Murmer’s speech did not give them the right to fire him,” Rebecca K. Glenberg, Virginia’s ACLU legal director, said in a written statement.

School board members defended the decision Friday, saying the move was justified based on its core values and the disruptions Murmer’s private life created in the classroom.

“The decision to settle … is in the best interest of Chesterfield County Public Schools, given the costs of continuing with the litigation,” board chairwoman Dianne E. Pettitt said in a written school statement.

School officials argued when firing Murmer that students had a right to receive their education in a positive learning environment free from distractions and disruptions. Previous court rulings hold that teachers are expected to lead by example, be role models and honor core values, a school spokeswoman said.

The board reasoned that Murmer had stepped beyond those rules with his abstract artwork.

But his attorneys said Murmer scrupulously kept his artwork private from his students and adopted the pseudonym “Stan Murmer” to shield them from finding his work on the Internet.

“The government has limited power to interfere with our private affairs, especially when those affairs are perfectly legal and protected by the Constitution,” Kent Willis, executive director of the Virginia ACLU, said in a statement. He said Murmer had been fired for conduct unrelated to his ability to be an effective teacher.

Murmer sells his paintings for as much as $4,800 on his Web site.

On the Net:

• Butt Print Art: http://buttprintart.com