Maplewood, NJ, frequently referred to as one of America's most liberal and tolerant towns, fired an employee for "profanity-laced" Facebook comments criticizing gay marriage, liberals, and abortion. The town's mayor called the worker's comments "appalling," according to a Maplewood Patch report, but the firing already is provoking debate among residents.
Sam Falcetano Jr., who posted on a publicly-viewable Facebook page called "Memories of living in South Orange, NJ or Maplewood, NJ," allegedly made homophobic slurs and complained about "liberals who have voted for Obama [and] ruined the Maplewood I grew up in." The Patch reports:
From there, Falcetano segued into statements criticizing teachers who "force feed their pupils a liberal agenda," abortion and gay marriage, which he said "breaks down the moral fabric of society."
"...don't try and force your perverted man on man into our traditional marriage," one post read.
Some posts contained allegedly more graphic comments. The posts were reportedly removed late on July 15, after town officials learned of it. In the posts, Falcetano also reportedly identified himself as an employee of Maplewood.In a public photo on his own Facebook page, he and some other posters make fun of his picture, stating that he looks "gay."
Is it a matter of free speech?
When reached by AOL Jobs, Falcetano cited his right to free speech and implied that he would challenge his firing. "I can't really say too much. My union is working on it. I feel that I exercised my first amendment rights. My union told me not to speak with anybody."
Neither Falcetano nor the only person available at the Maplewood administrative office could provide the full name of the union and neither would give contact information. AOL Jobs phoned Mayor Victor De Luca, who was out of the office, and then emailed him, but did not receive a response.
A division in the famously progressive town
The town has been listed as one of the 25 most liberal cities in the country. Maplewood has, according to New York Magazine, a reputation for diversity, with more than 40 percent of the population being non-white and a "a number of interracial and gay couples." The late actor Roy Schneider, singer/songwriter Lauryn Hill, and former Vogue editor-in-chief Grace Mirabella were all graduates of the regional high school.
In a thread about the firing, which appears on the "Memories of living in South Orange, NJ or Maplewood, NJ" Facebook page, there was a mix of opinion about the situation. Many of posters apparently found Falcetano's opinions offensive, though a number of these people were uncomfortable that he was fired for expressing his opinion, no matter how much they disagreed. Some others said they agreed with Falcetano's views, although they didn't specify which ones and Falcetano apparently had frequently posted criticisms about the area and local governments. At least one person claimed that Falcetano had ranted not only on this group page, but on the personal pages of some of the participants.
What the law says
Private employers have significant leeway to fire employees for what they post on Facebook. Citing the First Amendment is typically futile when dealing with a private employer because it specifically refers to government limitations on speech, not private ones.
A public employer, like a town, is in a different situation because it is a type of government body covered by the First Amendment. Because Falcetano is a member of the United Construction Trades & Industrial Employees International Union and worked under the collective bargaining agreement it negotiated, he would not be considered an at-will employee under New Jersey law, meaning the town could not fire him for any reason. Under the labor contract covering union employees, Maplewood can only discipline someone for "just cause."
Jonathan Cohen, an associate attorney with the New Jersey law firm of Apruzzese, McDermott, Mastro & Murphy, which has a public sector employment law practice, employees can sue a public entity for violations of the Bill of Rights, which would include First Amendment rights to freedom of speech.
"Certainly it's a hot issue among public employers in the state of New Jersey and around the country what is said on social media, what the expectations of privacy is, whether it's public or private, and how the employer finds out about the communication," Cohen said to AOL Jobs.
Employees' rights are limited
An employee must be speaking about a matter of so-called public concern: "if you're speaking out about conditions that affect more than just you and your job," said Cohen. A classic case would be a whistleblower discussing an abuse of power.
However, comments that "go to the heart of their job" and affect perception of how employees would perform their duties may not be covered. "There have been cases in New Jersey with teachers making comments about student in their class or comments that could be perceived as anti-gay or lesbian or anti-protected classes," Cohen said. "In those instances, there is a principle in the public sector where you can be disciplined for conduct unbecoming a public official."
The union contract with the town provides for an extended grievance procedure, which ultimately can end in binding arbitration. But according to Cohen, Falcetano may also have rights under the federal or New Jersey constitutions to sue over the alleged breach of free speech.
Read, "The Worst Ways To Be Fired."
The Worst Ways To Be Fired
N.J. Town Fires Worker, Citing 'Appalling' Facebook Remarks
Firing long-serving employees over email is pretty cowardly and insensitive. But you probably lose an extra 5 trillion karma points if those long-serving employees are soldiers. Due to an alleged "administrative error" several dozen British soldiers, who had each served for over 20 years, including one fighting in Afghanistan, were told that their services, or rather their service, would not longer be required. The email advised the troops to "start planning your resettlement."
Prime Minister David Cameron felt that "the way this has been handled is completely unacceptable," according to a spokesman. Jim Murphy, shadow defense secretary for the opposition Labour Party had stronger words, calling it "callous, cold-hearted, souless."
When a partially nude pic of Miss California Carry Prejean surfaced, Donald Trump stood by her side. "We are in the 21st century. We have determined the pictures taken are fine" and in some cases "lovely," said at a press conference in May 2009. He also defended her answer to a pageant question about same-sex marriage (she's not into it).
Less than a month later, Prejean got a call. It was radio and TV host Billy Bush, and he was wondering whether she had a statement. You know, about her losing her crown and her dreams being dashed in a hugely public and humiliating fall from grace?
"It is so bizarre to me how this has turned out," Prejean told Fox News. "I just couldn't believe it. I was so shocked, I didn't know what to say."
Sarah Silverman was on "Saturday Night Live" for a year, but only one of her sketches actually made it to dress rehearsal, and none got on the air. She claims that she was notified of her dismissal by fax, which isn't very cool now, and still wasn't very cool in 1994. She parodied the experience on "The Larry Sanders Show," in which the chauvinist head writer blackballs her jokes because she's a lady.
Getting fired is a bummer. Getting fired for being tired all the time when you're pregnant is a bigger bummer. Being told that you have to give back your uniform shirts or pay $30 is pretty wounding. And then bumping into your bright-eyed replacement on the way out is like pouring five pounds of salt in that wound.
That's what happened to one woman in East Hartford, Conn., who worked at Bell Foods grocery store. As she writes on her blog, she immediately went to her car, grabbed the dirty work shirts, and threw them on her supervisor's desk. Unfortunately, her supervisor wasn't sitting there. She was giving the new girl a tour.
By the age of 21, Chris Colfer had two Emmy nominations and ranked among Time's 100 most influential people in the world last year for his groundbreaking portrayal of a struggling gay teen on the primetime series "Glee." So he was a little surprised when he discovered that the show had tweeted that next season would be his last on the show. "I don't necessarily want to leave so soon, but I mean, it's fine," he told Access Hollywood. "It's what it is. And all things come to an end."
The show's creator, Ryan Murphy, had a different story. They'd been in talks about it for a while, he said, given that Colfer's character was graduating from high school, and that they were planning a spin-off. Annoyed about Colfer's comments, Murphy said that they were scrapping the spin-off idea. Colfer will be back on the show next season, however, as a high school graduate somehow integrated into high school plotlines with the logic-suspending grace of a truly great sitcom.
Sixteen-year-old Chelsea Taylor weekend job at a cafe called Cookies after she lost a ten-pound note (about $16). She was fired by a manager in a Facebook message riddled with the textspeak abbreviations that might be appropriate for dishing about the cute boy next to you in math class, but a little less appropriate for cutting someone off from their source of income.
"Sorry to send u a message like this but bin tryin to ring u but gettin no joy," she wrote. "I had to tell the owner bout u losin that tenner coz obviously the till was down at the end of the day. she wan't very pleased at all and despite me trying to persuade her otherwise she said I have to let u go. I'm really sorry."
Taylor shrugged it off with a resilient "oki x," but her mom wasn't too pleased, and had a little talk with the Daily Mail.
Back in 2010, Karen Ogilvie, a bartender in Dundee, Scotland, slept in and missed the start of her evening shift. She'd worked 11 hours the day before, four of them spent alone, so she couldn't even go to the bathroom, she claimed. Later that evening, she got a text. Bye-bye. Ogilvie replied with a few texts asking for her job back, but got no reply.
But things turned out rosy for Ogilvie. In October 2010, she was awarded the sum of 14,355 pounds ($22,461) by an employment tribunal, which found that her dismissal was "procedurally and substantively unfair."