Back in March I posted a blurb about Richard Doherty, the fireman in Bourne, Ma. who was fired after his bosses got wind of his Facebook posts disparaging members of the community and the fire department. After three days of disciplinary hearings found a pattern of behavior sufficiently negative, Doherty was terminated, but this week he has filed a lawsuit in federal court against the town of Bourne and the city administrator for violating his First Amendment right to free speech.
Reporter Heather Wysocki with the Cape Cod Times, whose been covering this situation from the start, has a great article up outlining the case to date. Doherty claims he was complaining only out of concern for the safety of his fellow firemen and the public (although he also complained about having to work on July 4th, which seems totally personal), and that his gripes were meant only for his personal Facebook connections to see. According to Wysocki’s article, “The fire department code also prohibits negative comments about the public or department employees, but it does not include anything specific about First Amendment rights.” So, is he a whistleblower, which generally gives some protection against retaliation, or a private citizen making opinion-based statements, which generally are protected by the First Amendment? This will be for the court to decide if the case goes that far. Doherty also appealed his firing with the state’s Civil Service Commission, which is expected to issue its findings in late July.