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Leadership/Management

Legal Lesson of the Month: Of Public Concern

EMS can be full of interesting and tricky legal scenarios. While you can’t have an attorney ride with you, it behooves providers to have at least some familiarity with the principles, precedents, and major issues of EMS law. To that end EMS World is pleased to offer the EMS Legal Lesson of the Month.

These cases are presented by prominent attorneys in the EMS field. This month’s comes from Larry Bennett, program chair for fire science and emergency management at the University of Cincinnati. Bennett’s department publishes a monthly Fire & EMS and Safety Law newsletter; subscribe to that by e-mailing Lawrence.bennett@uc.edu or read the latest edition here. Find this case and more in his section on EMS cases

Case: Jamie Marquardt v. Nicole Carlton and the City of Cleveland

Decided: August 2020

Verdict: The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals held a U.S. district judge improperly granted the city of Cleveland’s motion for summary judgment against Marquardt’s claim.

Link

Facts: While a captain with Cleveland EMS, Marquardt allegedly made incendiary comments on his private Facebook page regarding the death of 12-year-old police shooting victim Tamir Rice and was fired. Marquardt sued, alleging he was terminated for exercising his First Amendment rights.

Marquardt also said he did not author the post, which read: Let me be the first on record to have the balls to say Tamir Rice should have been shot and I am glad he is dead. I wish I was in the park that day as he terrorized innocent patrons by pointing a gun at them walking around acting bad. I am upset I did not get the chance to kill the criminal fucker.

A response from Marquardt’s account to an ensuing comment said: How would you feel if you were walking in the park and some ghetto rat pointed a gun in your face? Would you look to him as a hero? Cleveland sees this felony hood rat as a hero.

The posts were not made during work hours and did not identify Marquardt as a city employee. He claimed they were made by someone else while he slept, and they were removed soon after. However, two weeks later EMS Commissioner Nicole Carlton notified Marquardt he had been terminated for speech that violated city policies and “did not involve a matter of public concern.”

The city’s request for summary dismissal of Marquardt’s claim was granted by the U.S. District Court. That decision was then overturned by the appeals court, and the suit reinstated.

Key quote: “Given the widespread local and national scrutiny of the Rice shooting, these aspects of the posts directly relate to a ‘subject of general interest and of value and concern to the public.’”

Legal lesson: Employers must carefully review whether matters are of “public concern” before imposing discipline over employees’ social media posts.

 

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