Pompano Beach, FL — The firefighter was fired, and he probably thinks the outcome stinks.
It was three strikes and you’re out for a veteran firefighter who lost his job for bringing toilet paper printed with the image of President Obama to the firehouse.
Twenty-year firefighter Clint Pierce apparently showed up with “political paraphernalia” in the fire station two previous times and had been warned that divisive expressions of political views should be kept away from municipal property.
The city of Pompano Beach reportedly terminated Pierce for insubordination according to the Florida Sun-Sentinel:
“The incident exhibited ‘tasteless and disrespectful treatment’ of the president, ’caused significant divisiveness within the department and community,’ and led to’a community outcry’ and ‘negative national news coverage,’ Fire Chief Harry L. Small wrote in a Nov. 29 order calling for Pierce’s termination.”
Pierce had apologized for putting the toilet paper in a fire station restroom, but the apology didn’t save his job.
Public sector unionized workers (especially public safety officers) have substantial job protections, so it is remarkable that the city was able to go directly to termination without jumping through a lot of administrative hoops.
And apart from the job protections in the public sector, the First Amendment also applies in the government workplace. Nonverbal communication (especially of a political nature) is in general a form of protected “speech” under the law. There are no constitutionally protected free speech rights in the private sector, however.
That being said, did the city violate the firefighter’s freedom of expression in this context?
Further, while many would agree that the firefighter’s stunt was in bad taste, disrespectful, or offensive, do you think that termination is the appropriate sanction, or would a lesser form of discipline be more appropriate? In other words, did he really deserve to get flushed?