Free Speech Debate Ignited Over Firewoman’s Firing

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By Tarrah Baptista —

Charlotte, North Carolina fire investigator Crystal Eschert was recently fired from her job for supposedly posting “offensive”  comments to her private Facebook page in the aftermath of the Michael Brown shooting. Since then, Ms. Eschert and her attorney have been fighting to get her job back, alleging she was really fired in retaliation for her whistleblowing during a prior investigation.

In August 2014, Ms. Eschert embarrassed the Charlotte Fire Department by sending her immediate supervisor and city council member a report that pointed to discrepancies in permits and renovations that were taking place in a city building.

Shortly after Ms. Eschert issued her report, Fire Chief Jon Hannan and Police Chief Rodney Monroe received an email complaining of Ms. Eschert’s “offensive” Facebook comments.

Here is what the city’s top fireman and cop found so offensive:

“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 guy’s supporters? So why is everyone making it a racial issue? [I’m] so tired of hearing 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!”

That is what Ms. Eschert posted to her personal online Facebook account.




 
 
 

Clearly, nothing in Ms. Eschert’s personal musings warranted punishment of any kind. Even black civil rights activist John Barrett of Charlotte, after reading her commentary, agreed that she shouldn’t have been fired over it.

Hannan and city manager Ron Carlee disagreed. They argued that Ms. Eschert was in violation of the city’s “social media policy,” which they used to fire her.

Supporters say that Ms. Eschert is the only city employee to ever have been fired under this blatantly anti-First Amendment policy.

Ms. Eschert’s attorney, Margaret Maloney, contends that the email that was used to initially file a claim against Ms. Eschert came from someone inside the Charlotte City government.

City Attorney Bob Hagemann denies the allegation, arguing that Ms. Eschert’s case is similar to one heard in 2006 by a federal court of appeals, which resulted in the firing of a New York city police officer and two fire firefighters who had participated in a parade wearing “afro” wigs and blackface on a float that was made to look like buckets of fried chicken.

Many wonder why Ms. Eschert and her attorney are not refuting her termination as a violation of her First Amendment rights.




The current government position, assuming this firing is genuinely a reflection of it, is clearly an attack on free speech, a right of the people guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Constitution.

This case has raised questions and concerns about what Americans are able to say even if on their own personal, private Internet accounts.

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Tarrah Beth Baptista is a freelance writer, and a contributor of the annual Freedompalooza festival. She’s currently scouting speakers and vendors for future Freedompalooza events. Feel free to contact her at tarrahb@pokerface.com.

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10 Responses to Free Speech Debate Ignited Over Firewoman’s Firing

  1. ANONYMOUS says:
    The posts by both Eschert and Dulin were equally offensive, albeit targeted against different sectors of the community. Each of these public service employees have caused, by their inappropriate postings, a portion of the community they are meant to serve, to potentially call into question whether they will be impartial and non-discriminatory in carrying out their duties.

    Firing both individuals is, assuming they have otherwise good records, in my opinion too severe a penalty. It has been suggested that unpaid suspension time, a public apology and attendance at “sensitivity training” would be appropriate—and I agree.

    Mr. Dulin has already issued a public statement accepting full responsibility for his inappropriate action and offering an apology. Assuming, after any other CFD-determined penalty (e.g. unpaid suspension time) is levied, he is permitted to keep his position—Mrs. Eschert should be afforded the same opportunity. That is, she can “publicly” accept full responsibility and offer apology for her inappropriate posting—and take any other CFD-determined penalty (e.g. unpaid suspension time)—at which point she should be reinstated to her prior position.

  2. ANONYMOUS says:
    The Dulin situation should be addressed in like manner to Eschert—whether the final determination is firing for both or CFD changes its position to the Charlotte Observer‘s recommendation of suspension/training/apology for both of them—since the Charlotte Observer article agrees that the postings by both individuals were equally offensive and out-of-line.

    If Dulin does lose his job, I wonder will he also take Eschert’s path of refusing to take any accountability and rationalize some other excuse as the reason for termination?

  3. CHARLOTTE LADY says:
    Now comes to light the situation of CFD Deputy Chief Dulin postings relative to Bruce Jenner—and I also find his action to be callously insensitive and derogatory. Target of his posting addresses a different segment of the public community (LGBT) than Ms. Eschert’s—but both were equal in their offensiveness!

    Mr. Dulin’s case is exactly like the Crystal Eschert case. Both of these fire department “public servants” have called into question their ability to be perceived “by all they are meant to serve” as impartial and non-discriminatory in carrying out their duties. As such, both cases should be addressed in like manner.

    Perhaps it is time to send staff at the Fire Department to apparently much needed, “sensitivity training.”

  4. nozionistwars says:
    There was nothing “racist” or “judgmental” in her post. Welcome to the cultural Marxist dictatorship of “freedom.”
  5. S. Wesley Mcgranor says:
    I am all for inflammatory commentary publicly by government employees.
  6. gbynes says:
    Ms. Eschert does indeed have freedom of speech, but what she does not have is freedom from consequences. NC is an at-will state so you can be fired for any reason at any time. Ms. Eschert is not claiming freedom of speech violations but rather whistleblower, so she must be proud of her ignorance by not saying she screwed up and apologizing for breaking the fire department’s social media policy. Instead claims retaliation. Guess the fire department is supposed to pay up because she screwed up. That’s fair. NOT. Own up to what you did Ms. Eschert and deal with the consequences of your actions. Own it! It is after all yours! Not the fire department and not the citizens of NC who I am sure end up footing the bill for your ignorance.
  7. Anonymous says:
    What you failed to address Charlotte Lady….the initial complaint e-mail came from WITHIN Charlotte government shortly after Ms. Eschert’s complaint was made about the hazardous building…… Sounds like you may be one of the “many” outside attorneys the city has hired…… Guess the attorneys on the city’s payroll are useless!
  8. Anonymous says:
    Charlotte Lady is obviously a part of the city’s “chosen few” who feel they can get away with anything…… Wait, just wait……
  9. Anonymous says:
    Hmmm…..Who is Charlotte Lady? She obviously is a part of the “city chosen ones” and definitely does not know all the facts. Wait….. Just wait……
  10. CharlotteLady says:
    The employee did make the Facebook post and I am one of many (though not all agree) who found her comment to be callously judgmental and discriminatory….and it bothers me that she does not find her posting to be offensive. The Constitution guarantees Crystal the “right to free speech” and, as such, she can post any opinion she wishes, whether some find it offensive or not.

    However, the employer also has “rights” and there is nothing in the Constitution that guarantees Crystal the “right to a job.” Whether “firing” was the appropriate action (versus, perhaps, unpaid suspension) is for the fire department/city of Charlotte/civil service commission to decide.

    In this instance, as a public safety representative, I can see how her employer could find that her judgmental comments would impair her ability to be perceived “by all” as impartial and non-discriminatory in carrying out her duties.

    Apart from age, sex, race or religion, in an “employment-at-will” state the employer has the legal right to dismiss an employee for any reason…or for no reason at all.

    People need to realize that nothing is “private” on the Internet, and while we have the right to free speech, there are consequences to exercising that right.

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