By Doug Towns and Lori Wright Keffer
Can an employee’s Facebook post be grounds for termination? The Fifth Circuit says, “Yes.” Graziosi v. City of Greenville Mississippi, No. 13-60900 (5th Cir. January 9, 2015). A police officer posted on her Facebook page and on the Mayor’s Facebook page criticizing the Police Chief for not sending a police representative to the funeral of an officer killed in the line of duty. After investigation, the City discharged the officer for, among other reasons, insubordination. The officer sued alleging retaliation for exercising her First Amendment rights.
The Fifth Circuit concluded the officer’s Facebook post was not a citizen commenting on a matter of public concern, but rather a personal “rant;” and, even if the officer had posted as a citizen on a matter of public concern, the City’s employer-interests in discipline and working relationships outweighed the officer’s interest. The City did not have to prove actual disruption to its operations. Instead, the City was entitled to take action to “prevent future disruption.”
While this case involves a public employer, it is relevant to private employers. The case might show how far a court will go to protect an employee’s privacy interests when weighed against an employer’s business interest.
See also our earlier post on a similar issue in Lane v. Franks et al., No. 13-483 (U.S. June 19, 2014).