To avoid social media scandals, State A’s Department of Revenue (the Department) establishes social media guidelines in its employee handbook. The guidelines prohibit any employee “from posting or publishing any statements, endorsements, or other speech, information, images or personnel matters that could reasonably be interpreted to represent or undermine the views or positions of the department or officials acting on behalf of the Department or State.”
S is a managing revenue officer for the Department. He is responsible for the day-to-day operations in the office and handles more field debt collection issues than other officers.
S is also an avid user of social media. One day, S makes a few inflammatory posts online, loosely related to the tax issues he is currently working on:
“So many losers in this country. Why don’t thy just get off their rich butts and pay thr taxes like us middle class Americans. All thos rich guys who don’t pay any $$ using more of our taxpayer $$$!!!”
“U should be in prison if u don’t pay ur taxes. We should get rid of the IRS like the repubz say and just use the police 2 arrest u… instead, we r wasting more taxpayer $$ tryin to find u to get u to pay!!!”
Although S’s social media profile is public, none of his “friends” on social media are his co-workers. During an online search, the human resources division of the Department stumbles upon S’s posts. The human resources managers decide to take disciplinary action against S. Because S wrote his posts while employed in a managerial position, the Department decides to terminate S’s employment.
S is furious that he is being penalized for his speech. He brings a lawsuit in federal court against the Department alleging that the termination was a violation of his First Amendment rights.
- How should the court rule? Explain.
How should the court rule? Explain.