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Graziosi v. Greenville (775 F. 3d 731 - Court of Appeals, 5th Circuit, 2015) -
Police Officer’s Facebook Post Criticizing Her Boss Isn’t Protected Speech
Graziosi was a Sergeant of the Greenville, MS Police Department. She alleges she was wrongfully discharged due to comments she posted to the Facebook page of the city mayor's campaign election page. The former sergeant questioned the mayor's judgement in not allowing officers to attend the funeral of a fellow police officer in a near-by town due to the expenditure of police resources to attend the funeral. Additionally, the sergeant published additional comments on the public social media page which challenged the leadership of the mayor and such comments were supported by personal opinions of the former sergeant. The City of Greenville had been terminated for violating multiple policies and procedures of the police department in reference to her comments made upon the Mayor's Facebook page. The court ruled that the termination was valid due to her comments against the mayor and, later the police chief, were not a matter of public concern and that her interest in the speech did not outweigh the government employer’s interest in workplace efficiency. The court focused on this element and stated that the key distinction is whether she was speaking as a citizen or as an employee. The court concluded her posts were more relevant to “her own frustration” and were not intended to expose any wrongdoing or unlawful conduct. She argued that the public is obviously interested in how public funds are spent or not spent, but the court stated that her argument was overly-broad and without merit - supporting the city's argument that the former sergeant's comments were disruptive and interfered with the efficiency of the police department.
Please note that public employers have wide leeway to fire employees in these circumstances, and the employer does not have to show much to make the case that the speech was “disruptive” or “interfered with efficiency”.