Federal Court Upholds Facebook Discipline
Ariel Lindsay has been a Cook County, Illinois deputy sheriff since
2004, and was assigned to the Court Services Unit in the Criminal Courts Building in Chicago.
From July 6, 2016, through July 8, 2016, Lindsay made several posts to her Facebook account. Those posts referenced the July 2016 shooting of police officers in Dallas, Texas, and the public sentiment towards law enforcement officers. When she made her posts, Lindsay intended to show people the negativity that was happening and that negative attitudes and hate led to things like the Dallas shooting.
She posted a statement that “It’s all fun and games until it’s real,” intending to convey her feeling that when people make statements and lighthearted comments about killing people they “speak it into existence.” She also commented on a photo of the Dallas shooting, expressing her feeling that the media was helping to circulate the negativity people were communicating. In one post she asked God to watch over her brother, who she identified as a Chicago police officer, indicating that if something happened to him she would “have to kill every muthafucka out here.”
In one post Lindsay wrote, “I hope I don’t get killed today coming home from work. My son has practice today.” Then in response to a comment on her post, Lindsay stated, “That’s nice, but you really don’t care. Actually no one on my friends list really cares. From the looks of things, but that’s fine. I’m sure lots of people will say nice things at my funeral. Raise money for my son, check on my family. But no one really will understand the magnitude until that day. Just keep typing…”
Lindsay also re-posted a photo of a rifle, which included the original poster’s racist and threatening caption. Lindsay wrote, “Aren’t you glad that these guns are available to everyone. When you play God be prepared to kill children.” In response to a comment, she posted “the numbers will be high. I’m going to watch.”
When the Department issued a five-day suspension to Lindsay, she filed a federal court lawsuit alleging that the suspension violated her free speech rights under the First Amendment. A federal trial court dismissed the lawsuit.
The Court concluded that “the defendants have carried their burden of demonstrating that their interests in remedying any potential disruption caused by Lindsay’s posts outweighs Lindsay’s speech interest. Although her speech transpired on her own time, it was more substantially a statement of her personal views or grievances than involving matters of public concern, and thus not the sort of topic that defendants would require a compelling reason to restrict. As a deputy sheriff her job required contact with the public and carrying a firearm. The record reveals that at least one of her co-workers saw her posts and was concerned enough to report it to her superiors.
“At least one post can be read as indicating she has the potential to become violent. Defendants also thought her posts might indicate that she had suicidal ideations. Although the Court does not necessarily agree with defendants’ interpretation of the posts, it cannot conclude that defendants’ interpretation is unreasonable. Defendants had reasonable grounds to believe that Lindsay’s post may cause concern among her co-workers, possibly causing some to mistrust Lindsay. As a result, the Court concludes that Lindsay’s speech was not protected.”
Lindsay v. County of Cook, 2020 WL 6509350 (N.D. Ill. 2020).
Reprinted from Federal Court Upholds Facebook Discipline – Labor Relations Information System (lris.com)
January 6, 2021