Second Suit Filed Over Maryland Facebook Firing

A second federal court lawsuit has been filed over the firing of two members of Howard County Department of Fire & Rescue for their social media comments on gun control.

Mark Grutzmacher, a volunteer firefighter with Howard County, filed suit after he was terminated over several Facebook posts he exchanged with Howard County Battalion Chief Kevin Buker in January, 2013. 

The complaint explains the posts as follows:

  • Buker “posted” a satirical comment concerning assault weapons legislation that was pending in several jurisdictions in the United States on his Facebook page. The post could only be viewed by Mr. Buker’s Facebook “friends,” including Mr. Grutzmacher, not members of the general public. Specifically, Mr. Buker stated in his post, “My aide had an outstanding idea …. Let’s kill someone with a liberal … then maybe we can get them outlawed too! Think of the satisfaction of beating a liberal with another liberal … its almost poetic….”
  • Grutzmacher, responded to the post stating, “But … was it an ‘[assault] liberal’? Gotta pick a fat one, those are the ‘high capacity’ ones. Oh pick a black one, those are more ‘scary.’ Sorry had to perfect on a [sic] cool idea!”

Grutzmacher was fired on February 12, 2013 and Chief Buker was fired on March 6, 2013. Chief Buker filed suit in October alleging a violation of his First Amendment rights.  Grutzmacher filed suit on December 12, 2013 naming Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue Services, Fire Chief William F. Goddard, III and Assistant Chief William G. Anuszewski.

The complaint, drafted by attorney Edward Robson who represents both Grutzmacher and Buker, lists a single count: a violation of Grutzmacher’s First Amendment Rights.

Among the highlights of the compliant:

  • Upon information and belief, Chief Goddard and Assisant Chief Anuszewski are the final policy makers with respect to membership and participation in the County volunteer program and their actions constitute the official position of the County with respect to such matters.
  • It has become the policy, practice and/or custom for the County to dismiss professional and volunteer firefighters from service if they post or state positions in opposition to gun control legislation.
  • Mr. Grutzmacher’s Facebook posting regarding gun control legislation is protected speech under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
  • To the extent Mr. Grutzmacher is a public employee, Mr. Grutzmacher’s Facebook posting regarding gun control legislation is protected speech under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution in that it constitute a public employee’s speech on a matter of public concern.
  • The Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue Services has never identified any disruption to the workplace that occurred as a result of any of Mr. Grutzmacher’s aforementioned Facebook activities and no such disruptions occurred.

Here is a copy of the complaint: Grutzmacher v Howard County

Here is more on Chief Buker’s suit.

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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