Charlotte, NC - A jury just sent the city of Charlotte a strong message: You can't fire employees for saying things on Facebook you disagree with, and you can't use those posts to justify an unlawful firing.
The jury found that the city of Charlotte was retaliating against Crystal Eschert when they fired her for a Facebook post that she made in the days following the shooting of Michael Brown. The jury awarded her $1.5 million.
On August 20, 2014, 10 days after the shooting of justifiably dead criminal, Michael Brown, Fire Investigator Crystal Eschert posted privately to her friends on her Facebook page:
“White guy shot by police yesterday near Ferguson … Where is Obama? Where is Holder? Where is Al Sharpton? Where are Trayvon Martin’s parents? Where are all the white guys supporters? So is everyone MAKING it a racial issue? So tired it’s a racial thing. If you are a thug and worthless to society, it’s not race – You’re just a waste no matter what religion, race or sex you are.”
Somebody named Linda Havery later emailed then-police chief Rodney Monroe and Jon Hannan to complain about the Facebook post, according to Charlotte Observer. The e-mail complained that, even though the Facebook post was private, it "could cause unrest in the community."
The city fired Eschert over the Facebook post, arguing that she could not do her job if she used words like, "thug."
“What she wrote was a judgment on human life,” city attorney Sara Lincoln said.
Besides not being an absurd reason to fire somebody, the complaint had some additional issues. First of all, the complainant, "Linda Havery," doesn't exist. This non-existent person somehow had access to Crystal Eschert's friends-only Facebook page.
The timing of the complaint was also suspicious. Days earlier, Eschert had raised questions about the quality of renovations at a building on North Graham Street, which she believed was unsafe. She contacted her father-in-law Ray Eschert, a prominent political activist, who then contacted City Council member Claire Fallon, who requested a tour of the building. Eschert's attorney said that the fire chiefs were upset that she had gone outside of the department with the issue, something they couldn't fire her for.
Soon afterwards, "Linda Havery" sent the e-mail complaint about Crystal Eschert's Facebook post which resulted in her being fired.
Perhaps most damning was that the city hadn't fired any other employees for even more offensive Facebook posts. One meme, posted by another firefighter, made fun of the names that 'some black women give to their children.' Another had a photo of Daquan Westbrook's corpse with the caption that he was a "Black Lives Matter thug." Westbrook was fatally shot by an off-duty officer in December, when Westbrook started shooting in a crowded shopping mall.
Hopefully other cities will take notice and think twice before trying to retaliate against their employees. Do you agree with the jury? We'd like to hear what you think. Please let us know in the comments.