It's customary that when a police officer is killed in the line of duty, the city sends a representative to the funeral. But when former Sgt. Susan Graziosi posted a complaint on her Facebook page, chiding the mayor for not sending someone to services for an officer from Pearl, Miss. Graziosi was fired, The Delta Democrat Times reports, and now she's suing for a violation of her free speech.
"Dear Mayor," Graziosi wrote on her Facebook page, according to the lawsuit, "can we please get a leader that understands that a department sends officers (to) the funeral of an officer killed in the line of duty?"
Graziosi appealed her firing to Mayor Chuck Jordan, who recommended that the Greenville City Council back Cannon's decision. The council sided with Cannon and the mayor, and upheld Graziosi's firing.
So Graziosi filed suit against the mayor, the police chief, and the city, alleging economic and emotional damages.
"Ms. Graziosi and I hope that the process of this lawsuit will serve as a good civics lesson to the mayor and the police chief about the limits of their power to punish city employees for speaking out to the community about communitywide issues," Graziosi's attorney, Jackson-based J. Brad Pigott, said. "We look forward to that lawsuit process and hope that it serves a constructive purpose."
Greenville is only the latest testing ground over whether behavior on social networking sites counts as free speech. Earlier this year, a Virginia federal judge ruled that "liking" a page on Facebook was "insufficient" to be protected speech, and so Deputy Sheriff Daniel Ray Carter was not wrongfully terminated when he "liked" the Facebook campaign page of his boss's opponent.
Facebook and the American Civil Liberties Union disagreed, however, and their attorneys went to federal appeals court yesterday to make their case.
"If Carter had stood on a street corner and announced, `I like Jim Adams for Hampton sheriff,' there would be no dispute that his statement was constitutionally protected speech," Facebook wrote in a friend of the court brief. A Facebook "like," the brief continued, is "the 21st-century equivalent of a front-yard campaign sign."
Nonetheless, dozens of individuals have been fired for comments or photographs on the world's largest social network: There's the pierogi mascot for the Pittsburgh Pirates who was fired in 2010 after he posted mocking comments about the team. There are the 13 Virgin airline crew members who were promptly dismissed in 2008 after insulting customers and noting which cabins were infested with cockroaches. And then there's the New England Patriots cheerleader who lost her job in 2008 after a photo surfaced of her, with Sharpie in hand, next to an unconscious person covered in phallic symbols, various words for penis, swastikas and the phrase "I am a Jew."
To avoid these potential pitfalls, however, employees shouldn't hastily unplug their Facebook accounts. Anecdotal evidence suggests that some employers are now suspicious of applicants who don't have one.
Reporting from The Associated Press also contributed to this story.
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