An Indianapolis Star article details the complained of comments:
|Senator Jim Merritt|
From the Merritt press release:
INDIANAPOLIS – Republican mayoral candidate and current state senator Jim Merritt
held a press conference today to react to “vulgar and divisive comments” made by two
city employees about the crime prevention organization known as The Indianapolis Ten
“After these awful and mean-spirited comments were made about people who try to
protect our city, Mayor Hogsett’s reaction was to allow them to keep their jobs with a
slap on the wrist,” said Merritt. “This is simply unacceptable and shows us why Joe
Hogsett has failed as the person responsible for protecting our city.”
Regarding the current situation, Merritt had tough words for the mayor. “Joe HogsettThe comments were made from the city employees' personal social media accounts. The comments which were crass and arguably unfair to the Ten Point Coalition, were still political in nature and thus receive the most protection under the First Amendment Free Speech Clause. Merritt is suggesting that Mayor Hogsett fire the employees because the Senator didn't like the content of the employees' private, political speech. That's a really bad idea.
should fire these employees. If he doesn’t fire them now, it’s an endorsement of their
divisive, ugly comments,” Merritt said. “A true leader brings together and unites all who
wish to better our community. Joe Hogsett has not done that.”
Mayor Hogsett is an attorney and probably consulted with legal counsel about the employees' conduct. Thus, he likely knew the legal ramifications involved in any disciplinary action. If he fired the employees, he would be opening the city up to lawsuits based on a breach of the employee's Free Speech rights protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution as well as the Indiana Constitution. While a Seventh Circuit case, Garcetti (a terribly decided case that will inevitably be overturned) might provide cover for the termination, that is an iffy proposition at best.
The wisest course of action was for Mayor Hogsett to do exactly what he did: publicly express extreme displeasure over the comments, give the employees modest discipline (not enough though that creates substantial damages necessary for a successful lawsuit) and warn the employees that such public commentary, even if made in a private venue, reflect negatively upon his administration and should be avoided. Then, if despite those warnings the employees continue to engage in such objectionable speech attacking the Ten Point Coalition, it might be worth it to roll the dice and terminate the offending employees. My guess is that won't be necessary - that Merriweather and Majors learned their lesson and will show better judgment next time.
No use making a federal case out of it...literally. Senator Merritt's suggestion that the city employees be terminated for expressing objectionable political views in their personal social media accounts is a really, really bad idea. Mayor Hogsett handled the matter correctly.