Susan Graziosi had been employed by the Greenville, Mississippi Police Department for some 26 years when a fellow officer was killed in the line of duty in Pearl, Mississippi. The Greenville P.D. chose not to send an officer to the funeral in Pearl, some two or three hours away. Sgt. Graziosi objected to that failure and posted comments on her Facebook page criticizing the Greenville P.D. leadership. She said, among other things, that the leaders should lead or get out of the way. She mentioned no one by name, but her comments appeared to be addressed to the new Chief of Police.
The Chief fired her soon after. Cited in her termination letter were several police department policies, one of which stated: "chronic complaining about operations to the extent that supervisors must spend excessive time dealing with problems or issues caused by complaints" can lead to termination.
Yes, that is right. The Police Department had a policy against complaining. (Thanks to Molly DiBianca at Delaware Employers Blog for pointing this out). Truly a Human Resources representative dream policy.
Sgt. Graziosi filed suit alleging First Amendment issues. Grasiosi v. City of Greenville, No. 4:12-CV-68-MPM-DAS, 2013 US LEXIS 172581 (N.D. Miss. 12/3/2013). A government worker does have some First Amendment right to comment on issues of public concern. But, that right is balanced against an employer’s right to maintain an efficient workplace. The employer’s right to maintain good order and discipline is especially important in a paramilitary organization like a police force. In this case, as many other police cases, the district court found that Ms. Grasiosi’s comments were not protected by the First Amendment. Her comments were more about her personal concerns about the department than about some larger public policy, said the court. So, the court granted the employer’s motion for summary judgment.
But, if I worked at the Greenville Human Resources department, I would still seriously re-think that policy against complaining……