Teachers have been outed for moonlighting in adult content. Do they have legal recourse?
Dec 10, 2023, 10:14 PM
(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
At a small rural Missouri high school, two English teachers shared a secret: Both were posting adult content on OnlyFans, the subscription-based website known for sexually explicit content.
The site and others like it provide an opportunity for those willing to dabble in pornography to earn extra money — sometimes lots of it. The money is handy, especially in relatively low-paying fields like teaching, and many post the content anonymously while trying to maintain their day jobs.
But some outed teachers, as well as people in other prominent fields such as law, have lost their jobs, raising questions about personal freedoms and how far employers can go to avoid stigma related to their employees’ after-hour activities.
At St. Clair High School southwest of St. Louis, it all came crashing down this fall for 28-year-old Brianna Coppage and 31-year-old Megan Gaither.
“You’re tainted and seen as a liability,” Gaither lamented on Facebook after she was suspended. Coppage resigned.
The industry has seen a boom since the COVID-19 pandemic, and it is now believed 2 million to 3 million people produce content for subscriptions sites such as OnlyFans, Just for Fans and Clips4Sale, said Mike Stabile, spokesman for the Free Speech Coalition, a trade association for the adult entertainment industry.
“I think that there was a time prior to the pandemic where the idea that someone might become a porn star was akin to saying that someone might be abducted by aliens,” Stabile said. “I think that what the pandemic and the sort of explosion of fan content showed was that a lot of people were open to doing it.”
It frequently proves risky, though. A recent report from the trade association found 3 in 5 adult entertainment performers have experienced employment discrimination. The report, based on a survey of more than 600 people in the industry, said 64% of adult creators have no other significant source of income, while there were no details on the occupations of those who did.
In St. Clair, Coppage was the first to be outed after someone posted a link to her OnlyFans account on a community Facebook group. Superintendent Kyle Kruse said Coppage was not asked to resign, but she did anyway.
“I do not regret joining OnlyFans,” Coppage told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in September. “I know it can be taboo, or some people may believe that it is shameful, but I don’t think sex work has to be shameful. I do just wish things just happened in a different way.”
Gaither, who also coached cheerleading, said she used her account to pay off student loans. She also was outed, although she wrote that she had an alias and did not show her face.
Neither teacher responded to phone or email messages from The Associated Press seeking comment. But both women told other news outlets that their OnlyFans earnings soared from the publicity.
The district said little, but parents and even some students voiced concerns.
“As a society, if we’ve come to it to think that it’s OK for children to be seeing their teacher having sex, that’s outrageous,” said Kurt Moritz, the father of a 7-year-old boy in the district. “We shouldn’t be giving children an extra reason to fantasize over their teachers.”
Moritz and a former student said they were particularly alarmed when Coppage did a YouTube interview with an adult content creator and said she would be willing to film with former students. Moritz said the remark went too far, and 17-year-old Claire Howard, who moved out of the district midway through last school-year, agreed.
“That’s something that shouldn’t be sexualized,” Howard said.
Whether fired adult content creators have a legal recourse is unclear. Employers have wide latitude to terminate employees. The question is whether firing people moonlighting in the adult entertainment industry has a disproportionate effect on women and LGBTQ+ people, said attorney Derek Demeri, an employment law expert in New Jersey.
Both groups are protected, and data from the Free Speech Coalition shows they are the ones who overwhelming produce adult content, he noted.
“If you have a policy that on its face is not about discrimination but ends up having a disparate impact on a protected community, now you’re crossing into territory that may be unlawful,” Demeri said, adding that this applies even in cases where the day job involves working with children.
Attorney Gregory Locke, who was fired in March as a New York City administrative law judge after city officials learned about his OnlyFans account, was contacted by a handful of adult content creators who were terminated from their day jobs. He hasn’t yet sued but said he agrees with Demeri’s legal reasoning.
Locke’s termination followed an online spat over drag queen story hours in which he used a profane remark in response to a councilmember who opposed the events. Locke, who is gay, said people need to stop treating sex work like such a big problem.
“We’re a gig economy now and millennials have more student debt than we know what to do with,” he said. “There’s all sorts of reasons why people would reach out for outside income like sex work, like OnlyFans.”
At least one lawsuit has been filed in a similar situation. Victoria Triece sued Orange County Public Schools in January, alleging she was banned from volunteering at her son’s Florida elementary school because she posts on OnlyFans.
“When you start getting the moral police involved in it, where does it stop? At what point does the school have the right to intervene in one’s private life?” asked her attorney, Mark NeJame.
In South Bend, Indiana, 42-year-old Sarah Seales said she was fired last year from her job teaching science to elementary school children through a Department of Defense youth program called STARBASE after she began posting on OnlyFans to make more money to support her twins.
A Department of Defense spokesperson said it was inappropriate to comment on matters of pending litigation.
Attorney Mark Nicholson, who specializes in revenge porn cases, interviewed Seales and hired her to work on his firm’s podcast. They ultimately decided against suing the blogger who drew attention to Seales’ side gig, he said.
“If we pay our teachers as much as we pay athletes,” Nicholson said, “maybe she wouldn’t have had to open up an OnlyFans.”
Hollingsworth reported from Mission, Kansas. Associated Press writer Jim Salter contributed from O’Fallon, Missouri.