Oregon Chief Claims He Was Fired Over Wife’s Social Media Postings

Today’s burning question: Can I be fired from my job as a fire chief because my wife criticizes my bosses on social media?

Answer: Chances are your bosses will find another reason to fire you if they were upset about your wife’s social media activities.

That is what a former Oregon fire chief, Mike Balzer, claims happened to him last October when he was fired from the Cannon Beach Rural Fire Protection District.

Chief Balzer is suing the district for wrongful termination, breach of contract, and defamation. He is seeking $525,000 in damages and his job back.

According to the suit, the district’s board of directors had been upset with him over his wife’s criticism of them on social media. Chief Balzer claims that last year the board became increasingly critical of his work, setting goals that were impossible for him to attain. He also claims the board “intentionally created a hostile work environment” leading up to his firing on October 12, 2015.

The suit alleges Chief Balzer “suffered irreparable injury to his business and personal reputation, and will have serious difficulty finding substitute employment, particularly in the small coastal community in which he resides.” He had been chief since February of 2012.

A petition to recall three of the board’s five directors has been initiated as fall-out over Chief Balzer’s firing rippled through the community.

More on the story.

If any of our Oregonian friends could get us a copy of the complaint, I would be much obliged. While the news reports do not mention a 1st Amendment claim, it would appear that if Mrs. Balzer’s posts were Constitutionally protected free speech, and Chief Balzer’s termination was in any way impacted by her activities – the district could be looking at a 1st Amendment retaliation action as well.

Remember – unlike Chief Balzer, Mrs. Balzer’s speech is not limited by Pickering!!!

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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