The Case of Sheikh Ali Salman [Bahrain]
In Progress Contracts Expression
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The Court of Appeals of the State of São Paulo held a teacher and the State of São Paulo jointly and severally liable for the harm caused by the teacher’s racist and offensive statements made to her students during one of her classes. The Court concluded that the statements were serious and caused harm to two students who were of African descent. The Court ordered that the students were to be compensated BRL 20,000 in moral damages. In reaching this conclusion, the Court highlighted that schools should promote tolerance and respect.
Professor Carla Maria Marini Machado was a teacher in a public school in the City of Guarujá, São Paulo, Brazil. In one of her classes she was commenting on Black Awareness Day (Dia da Consciência Negra), a holiday celebrated in a number of cities in Brazil, when she declared that members of the black community were “dumb” and “unable to learn”. Her statements were recorded by a number of her students.
Two of her students, Ms. Nascimento and Mr. Lima, sued the State of São Paulo and Professor Machado for compensation for the moral damage caused by the statements. Ms. Nascimento and Mr. Lima alleged that they had been harmed because they were of African descent.
The Lower Court awarded damages of BRL 20,000 against the State of São Paulo and Professor Machado joint and severally. The State of São Paulo appealed the decision to the Court of Appeals.
Justice Rebouças de Carvalho delivered the judgment on behalf of the Court of Appeals of the State of São Paulo. He dismissed the appeal, maintaining the decision granted by the Lower Court.
Justice Rebouças de Carvalho found that there was state responsibility in this case because the students’ harm had been caused by the actions of a state employee in a public education facility, into whose custody the students had been entrusted and who had an obligation to ensure the students’ physical and mental integrity. Justice Rebouças de Carvalho deemed Professor Machado’s comments to be improper and unfortunate. Furthermore, the comments were found to be particularly serious given that they were made by a school teacher who is expected to promote coexistence and encourage the freedoms of tolerance, respect, and human dignity. Justice Rebouças de Carvalho concluded that these types of comments from a school teacher should not be admitted, and should be curtailed. Accordingly, Justice Rebouças de Carvalho found the State of São Paulo strictly liable for the actions of Professor Machado. Furthermore, he had little difficulty in finding Professor Machado personally liable for the harm caused by her comments.
Justice Rebouças de Carvalho found that the harm caused to the students went beyond mere annoyance to their daily lives. Instead, the harm amounted to reasonable offence that required indemnification. He went on to find that damages of BRL 10,000 for each student was appropriate given the circumstances of the case.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
This decision contracts expression by finding a teacher, and the state as her employer, jointly and severally liable in damages for the harm caused by the teacher’s racist and inappropriate comments. The decision highlights that these types of comments are unacceptable from teachers, and should be curtailed. However, the decision does not analyse in any detail the impact such a decision might have on academic freedom or the right to freedom of expression more generally.
Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.
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