“Bland et al. v. Roberts, 2013 U.S. App. LEXIS 19268 (4th Circuit, September 18, 2013), Daniel Ray Carter, Jr., was employed as a deputy sheriff in Hampton, Virginia. During the election season when his boss, Sheriff B.J. Roberts, was running for reelection, Carter (and some of his co-workers) expressed support for Robert’s political opponent by “liking” his campaign Facebook page. Upon learning of this, Roberts terminated the employees who had “liked” his opponent’s page claiming the terminations were based on budget cuts and disruption of office dynamics.”
Sheriff Roberts believed that his firing was in retaliation for supporting his boss’ rival. Roberts and his co-workers sued stating that they were being fired for expressing their free speech rights under the First Amended. Well the district court did find that “Liking” something on Facebook could be protected speech, but merely liking something didn’t make it “protected speech” warranting constitutional protection. Roberts appealed and the 4th Circuit reversed this determination.
The Appellate Court held that on a “most basic level, clicking on the ‘Like’ button literally causes to be published the statement that the user ‘likes’ something, which is itself a substantive statement,” of approval or support. Because this was a political campaign, the “like” button became like a campaign sign in front of a person’s front lawn which is purely political speech. This sort of speech has always been protected by the first amendment.
The importance of this decision is significant because it creates First Amendment protections for employees who use social media and their use of “likes” and “emoticons.” This means employers need to be very careful when investigating or taking disciplinary action against employees who exercise their First Amendment rights in this fashion. If you fired an employee for this sort of use of social medium you could find yourself sued.
Good luck out there!
PS: I know this doesn’t have as much to do with bankruptcy and loan modification. However, I did find it interesting.