South Carolina Captain Fired For Facebook Post Sues

A white captain with the Columbia Fire Department who was fired last year for posting that he would run over Black Lives Matter protesters on I126, is suing for race discrimination and violation of his free speech rights.

Captain James Morris was fired on July 11, 2016, one day after he posted two comments on Facebook regarding protesters who were blocking I126. The posts were:

  • “Idiots shutting down I-126. Better not be there when I get off work or there is gonna be some run over dumb asses.”
  • “Public Service Announcement: If you attempt to shut down an interstate, highway, etc on my way home, you best hope I’m not one of the first vehicles because your ass WILL get run over. Period! That is all …”

Captain Morris filed suit in Richland County Court of Common Pleas in October, claiming his comments were protected speech and that the department discriminated against him because he is white. He claims black firefighters who posted equally offensive speech were either not disciplined, or disciplined less harshly. In November, the city removed the suit to federal court because both allegations involve federal law.

According to the complaint:

  • Protesters from the movement Black Lives Matter obstructed roadways in Columbia, South Carolina on July 10, 2016.
  • Plaintiff wholeheartedly supports racial equality, and the First Amendment rights of Black Lives Matter to protest and assemble.
  • Plaintiff holds a good faith belief that public roadways are not the proper forum for speech because of safety concerns.
  • Plaintiff posted on Facebook on July 10, 2016 that he was angry that protesters were shutting down roadways, and exaggerated that he would run over them if they got in his way.
  • Plaintiff was terminated on July 11, 2016, on the stated basis of his Facebook post.
  • Plaintiff’s speech at issue was about matters of public concern and, was not made pursuant to his job duties.
  • Plaintiff violated no then-existing policies of the Defendant with his speech.
  • Two similarly situated white coworkers were terminated because of the same sort of Facebook posts.
  • Two similarly situated black coworkers made the same sort of Facebook posts; of whom, one black coworker was not disciplined at all and the other was suspended.
  • Black coworkers of Plaintiff have consistently engaged in speech like Plaintiff’s speech without repercussions since the Plaintiff’s termination.
  • Coworkers of Plaintiff, of all races, have consistently engaged in speech opposite to Plaintiff’s speech at issue, and have suffered no repercussions.

Here is a copy of the complaint: Morris v Columbia

Here is a copy of the removal notice: Removal Notice

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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