A California educator who says she was fired for speaking out about the limited services provided to her special education students can sue for retaliation, an appeals court has ruled.

Susan Barker was a resource specialist in Riverside, Calif. in 2005 when she raised red flags about the limited services provided to students with disabilities in the school district. She made a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights and says her superiors in the school district promptly began intimidating her.

Barker says her colleagues stopped communicating by phone and e-mail, excluded her from staff meetings, limited her responsibilities and changed her work location. As a result, she alleged in a lawsuit against the school district that she was “constructively terminated” in August 2006 because her employer “subjected her to an intolerable work environment.”

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A lower court said that Barker lacked standing to sue because she does not have a disability and was claiming retaliation for advocating on behalf of her students under section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

On appeal, however, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit said otherwise, asserting that educators do have the right to claim retaliation if they are acting on behalf of their students.