Judge Blocks Enforcement of Two Nashville Fire Policies That Limit Employee Speech

A Tennessee judge has issued a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of two Nashville Fire Department policies that regulate employee speech. The ruling came in a lawsuit filed by a firefighter who was suspended for calling the city council “white supremacists” in social media.

Josh Lipscomb filed suit in April claiming his suspension is unconstitutional. Lipscomb, who is a comedian, criticized a city council decision on license plate readers by posting on Twitter:  “I hate feeding into the illusion that America’s government and existence is legitimate, so I’m no fan of voting. But the majority of Nashville City Council is white supremacists. I know it’s boring, but millennials have to start caring about local elections.” The post was made under his stage name, Josh Black.

Last week, Judge Patricia Head Moskal concluded that two of the four policies that Lipscomb challenged, were unconstitutional restrictions of employee free speech. The two policies were described by The Tennessean as a “defamation policy” and a “derogatory notices policy.”

A copy of the ruling is not available on Lexis or other web sites. It will be posted here if/when it becomes available. However, according to The Tennessean, the defamation policy was found to be unconstitutionally vague, and the derogatory notices policy was “overbroad and seems to prohibit protected speech.”

More on the story.

Update October 20, 2022: Here is a copy of the court’s ruling:

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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