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Court: Mass. paramedic can be disciplined for Facebook posts

Expletive-filled postings complained about colleagues, superiors, town's Police Department

Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly

BOURNE, Mass. — Bourne firefighter and paramedic Richard Doherty wasn’t Facebook friends with the acting fire chief for whom he worked.

But he was a Facebook friend of the chief’s secretary, who printed out the expletive-filled postings on Doherty’s Facebook page in which he complained about his colleagues, superiors and the town's Police Department. Other postings by Doherty included derogatory terms for gays that poked fun at his personal friends, and he used a photo of the gay police officer on the comedy “Reno 911” to criticize local public safety officials with whom he had had disagreements. The postings resulted in Doherty’s termination.

Full story: Court: Mass. paramedic can be disciplined for Facebook posts

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Scott E Mc Scott E Mc Thursday, April 05, 2012 2:17:43 PM Nope. Doesn't sound like somebody that I'd like to send to save my dying father (or mother). Full termination sounds about right for douchebaggery of this scale.
Drew Croy Drew Croy Thursday, April 05, 2012 4:03:35 PM He should have known better. This is the type of thing you expect to find and correct from a rookie not a seasoned vet. Maturity level of a "Family Guy" episode. HOWEVER, termination without following the established policy on discipline is also wrong. If this guy is that much of a douche it shouldn't be too hard to find legitimate reasons to dismiss him from his position.
Sharon Springer Sharon Springer Thursday, April 05, 2012 5:23:13 PM Anyone over the age of 12 should know better than to post such stuff. However unfortunate it may be, people still post really stupid stuff!
Bambi Morgan Bambi Morgan Thursday, April 05, 2012 5:37:31 PM Wow. I would have defiantly fired him. It is people like that who give service workers bad names. A person who feels that way about everyone surrounding him could not work as part of a team. I know I would not want to work with him!! Freedom of speech is one thing. Slander/being a bully is another!
Emma Kruczek Emma Kruczek Thursday, April 05, 2012 6:08:20 PM Ok.. it is freedom of speech.. without a job..
Kevin Hanes Kevin Hanes Thursday, April 05, 2012 6:18:46 PM Wow, you folks are quick to criticize him! I should start of by stating I do not know anyone involved and live in Ohio. What we have here is someone in his own way and right let his frustrations out. I do not condone the way it was done, but he is entitled to his opinion. This may very well go above and beyond what we are being told. As a union man and supporter, I know from experience that we the organized labor are sometimes looked at like we are the problem. Labor and management atypically do not get along. Being he is/was the VP of his local that puts I'm in the crosshairs for ALL MANAGEMENT and POLITICIANS! All I am suggesting is that we may not have the whole story, which is very frequent with And to give the guy the benefit of doubt. Given his position in the union and being a street level employee I assume he was under a huge amount of stress. Could it be that it is contract time, and they were making huge concessions in order to keep their jobs? Find the whole story before crucifying him, most of you are stretcher transporters that do not understand the system......
Michael Marushia Michael Marushia Thursday, April 05, 2012 6:48:21 PM Though the food may not be your favorite, you know you never bite the hand that feeds least not in public where it can bite back.
Rob Farmer Rob Farmer Thursday, April 05, 2012 6:50:14 PM The poor guy was under a lot of stress? really? he's in the union, so it's OK? @kevin, this is your excuse for allowing this type of behavior in a (presumed) public employee? how about conduct unbecoming, and derogatory language regarding management. This behavior is NOT OK for any employment setting. This type of behavior is not protected by the first or fourth amendment, either, when under the employ of the public domain. sorry about your luck. that's not how the OHIO revised code or the OHIO administrative code works. This has nothing to do with being in the union and having a target on your back, this has to do with being stupid, and making poor choices. For those choices, there are consequences. Do we have the full story? Probably not, that's why we're not deciding his level of discipline. Those who have the information are. Don't try to make this into a "suppressed by the man" issue, though, just because he made bad choices.
Brandon Mathews Brandon Mathews Thursday, April 05, 2012 7:35:29 PM I had a similar case at my last job. I posted pics of firefighters on my crew sleeping on Facebook and commented "another day on the job." Other people posted to the pic also including another ex-employee. Nothing derogatory was said but it was shown to my supervisor. Our organization had a policy of picture taking while on Emergency scene to protect people's privacy. This "might" have fallen under that policy and in that case I admit that I should have been reprimanded and possibly written up. But it was when my supervisor made a special trip to the station in the middle of the night to confront me personally that it became personal. Because of this post I was advised that I was" a shit starter, a trouble maker, and a buddy fucker" by my supervisor. Needless to say I resigned from my job that night. I agree that there is a point where it is freedom of speech but there is a degree of responsibility that comes with freedom. So, you must ask yourself, how deeply do you believe in what you are saying? What are you willing to sacrifice? Your Job? Our freedoms are protected by the constitution but in a politically correct world that doesn't count for much. Keep your heads down and remember, Everyone Goes Home.
Pat Radford Pat Radford Thursday, April 05, 2012 7:45:30 PM as a emt and long term muncipal employee even i know better then to traqsh my employers in public....remember facebook etc is open for the world to see so dont write anything you would not tell the bos to his face
Kevin Hanes Kevin Hanes Thursday, April 05, 2012 9:07:13 PM Since when is anything said in any public forum not covered by your freedom of speech? Does freedom of speech only apply in your own home in the closet with the door locked and nobody else in the house? And derogatory language toward management? What the hell is that? I have only had 1 employer I wouldn't call an ass.
Bob B. Webb Bob B. Webb Thursday, April 05, 2012 9:38:29 PM A person involved in public service is suppose to set examples aren’t they? Not destroy the public’s faith, even though everyone is entitled to their opinion, he was distrustful in his continuous slanderous accusations & depictions of personnel he worked so close with. He should be disciplined & then transferred. But who am I to say what should happen, I’m just a member of the public with my own opinions.
Stephen Fitts Stephen Fitts Thursday, April 05, 2012 10:22:40 PM The problem here is not freedom of speech, it is professional behavior. I'm not sure that termination was the proper consequence in this situation. However, by failing maintain his security set up, and keep his posts private or for friends only, he failed to behave in a professional manner and is subject to facing the consequences of his actions.
John Bradshaw John Bradshaw Friday, April 06, 2012 2:45:16 AM Freedom of speech...enough said..freedom of speech was intended to protect us from being held responsible for speaking against other public and government officials.
John Bradshaw John Bradshaw Friday, April 06, 2012 2:53:18 AM Everyone may disagree with the way this guy went about things. However he has the right to say what he wants. It doesnt matter what he said. It doesnt matter who could see it or hear it. Last time i checked facebook wasnt affiliated with his town. It is a public forum. It is his constitutional right to voice his opinion. Whether it is right or wrong he still has his rights.
Jerry Knopf Jerry Knopf Friday, April 06, 2012 2:56:39 AM We all know that comments like that come out of frustrations of truth, we all know someone that works at a place for a long time sees "certain" people get away with "things" all the time and nothing happens then "other" people do things and all hell breaks loose, and those "certain" people are part of the group going after the "others" like they're innocent. Shame on his "friend" the Secretary, choose your FB "friends" wisely and never use NOUNS when complaining on FB and remember there are always "others" watching, I call them, "Hypocrites".
Rob Farmer Rob Farmer Friday, April 06, 2012 4:23:06 AM Case law from the Supreme Court states that employees of public agencies have a "limited" first amendment right to speak out on "matters of PUBLIC concern." They state that it must relate to matters of serious "political, social or other concerns." In other words, it must be motivated out of a concern for the public as a whole, rather than an individual concern. In an arbitration to get your job back, it would be not only viewed as the content of the "free speech," but also the context when it was expressed. If it pertains solely to an employee's personal grievances against the employer, it does NOT fall under the matter of public concern. SO, if these comments were made in private, to one person in a personal message, he would be fine. However, they were made in a public forum where others (to whom he didn't direct the message) could read them. Secondly, if the employer had an SOG, or policy, against disparaging or derogatory language which the employee signed-off (perhaps without reading), he is in violation of that workplace rule. It is up to the employer, at that point, to instill discipline based on the violation of the rule. Many times, bosses are considered the @$ of the department because they understand and enforce the rules that no one else takes the time to understand (not only what they say, but why they say it) and follow.
Steven W. Wilgus Steven W. Wilgus Friday, April 06, 2012 5:12:03 AM "But Burke found that the town failed to apply its progressive discipline policy when it handed Doherty a pink slip instead of a suspension." THIS is the only defense to the termination this juvenile [and please quote me] "professional". His claim he wasn't aware he was violating policy could in fact be true: that bothers me even more. If his person was 15 or 17, I could possibly see that being the case. His 'right to free speech' ends where aggregious and malicious profiling/name calling occurs. That this alleged [again please quote me] adult would be oblivious that comments on a such public forum be considered protected is foolish. The Union Steward/Representative let him down by NOT informing him of the "dangerous" career path he was walking [running actually]. But the ultimate blame MUST fall on the cause of all of this drama: Doherty. Him being a Paramedic, demanding to be treated as a medical professional DEMANDS PROFESSIONAL ETHICS, BEHAVIOR, AND COMPORTMENT. 24/7. How could he not expect the rath of his superiors to all his slander and lible? Does this person have enough common sense to understand how adults work out their differences? As a medic and a nurse and a firefighter, I can not condone such incredibly immature behavior: this calls into serious question on how he treats his patients that don't fall in to his "approval criteria". I have heard so many Paramedics claim they are professionals over the years: and I have been blessed to work alongside and with them. This is a case where profesionalism was left somewhere else. If he is reinstated, I suspect his employee evaluation will have a few lines of entry in the behavior section. I also suggest [take it for what you will], that this person also attend a communication workshop, as well as an anger management class before he is off probation: which he surely should be on. This type of behavior calls into question the professionalism of the entire Department. THAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN CLEARLY UNDERSTOOD BY DOHERTY YEARS AGO. I would as Chief, use every means legal at my disposal to see that this person remains OFF the Department. Wow, is really all I can end this with.
Steven W. Wilgus Steven W. Wilgus Friday, April 06, 2012 5:24:19 AM @Rob Farmer , I agree with you: furthermore, when Doherty named specific positions and in essence people, he took it from the public domain and personalized it. This undisciplined person would in fact have dire consequences in the Army [of which I am an Honorably Discharged 25-year AD/IRR Veteran] to include POSSIBLE incarceration - for possible sedition, and at the very least, slander. Mr. Hanes above does not clearly understand the actual limits of free speech: it was never intended to allow ANARCHY speech, but free of UNREASONABLE restriants/censure speech. If there aren't any restrictions to such, WHY CAN'T I TALK ABOUT A PATIENT'S CONDITION IN PUBLIC? MY own "free speech" is curtailed, is it not? But none of us would disagree that as a Nurse privy to VERY personal information of a highly embarrasing nature, I have a legitimate "gag" on to whom I can say what. I absolutely endorese free speech [and assembly] - as my Army enlistment proves - , but the 1st Ammendment was PRIMARILY directed towards RELIGIOUS WORSHIP in whatever form the practitioner decided to do [OR NOT]. That it is also wisely applied to the general area of behavior, that does not in any way remove ACCOUNTABILITY of ones actions [of which speech is]. In closing, free speech does NOT HAVE FREE REIGN.
Steven W. Wilgus Steven W. Wilgus Friday, April 06, 2012 5:42:36 AM @ Mr Hanes: I do not single you out for disagreement. I replied to your statement above the post. In all things we are personally involved in , we rarely have "all the facts", but there is such a preponderance of "evidence" in this case, that the Freedom of Speech defense becomes as misused as the veritible "self defense" used in so many criminal cases that it too became comedic de riguer. If there is ONE thing I have learned, it is that there are Consequences to every action. The other is the Law of Unintended Consequences. What one says is what one is.
Rob Farmer Rob Farmer Friday, April 06, 2012 5:44:47 AM And Kevin... Let me put it in this context... You say, "I have only had one employer I wouldn't call an @$." So, let's take one of them (the @$es). Would you stand in a common space in the workplace in front of your peers, and say to the boss, to his face, that he is an @$? Would you expect discipline? Would you claim the right to free speech in that circumstance? How do you think that would work out for you?
Dottie Di Liddo Dottie Di Liddo Friday, April 06, 2012 7:44:08 AM My question is if this guy is so disgruntled and unhappy why is he fighting for his job? I've been frustrated with people and situations at work in the past but I knew better than to bite the hand that's feeding me. Freedom of speech~really! Sound like he was libelous in his postings. He was also immature and very unprofessional. I'm so tired of people in this profession acting like juveniles and then screaming foul when they get called on the carpet. Should he have been warned before he got the pink slip, maybe so, but common sense would dictate you don't make posts that sound like they are coming from a high-schooler and then expect to work as a trusted public servant.
Mick Hawkins Mick Hawkins Friday, April 06, 2012 7:46:33 AM another reason to apply the privacy settings on ones facebook account!.
Dottie Di Liddo Dottie Di Liddo Friday, April 06, 2012 7:50:50 AM Kevin Hanes We are trusted to go into peoples houses in times of emergencies and times of need. We cannot effectively do our jobs and earn the trust of the public if we are acting like immature children. We all have frustrations in our employment, airing that on a public forum is just plain wrong.
Jamie E Jr Henley Jamie E Jr Henley Friday, April 06, 2012 8:00:41 AM In public safety positions, we are always under the microscope by the public. People in these jobs should realize that or find another job that allows them to be more vocal. We were just talking about this at work not long ago. Any newsworthy article concerning a public safety servant will always have the department name attached. It is not that way with most other jobs.
Connie Trier Connie Trier Friday, April 06, 2012 8:26:00 AM Anyone who names their work on FB is an idiot. I talk about work on occasion, but only my family knows who I work for. I also try to keep negative comments about work to myself - for this very reason. Before posting anything, ask yourself, "What if my boss or his boss reads this?"
Elizabeth Miller Elizabeth Miller Friday, April 06, 2012 9:47:49 AM What's a pickle puffer?
Mackle Mart Mackle Mart Friday, April 06, 2012 11:47:56 AM While I agree that this particular individual's actions were far from professional, why is it that emergency services workers are expected to give up their rights as citizens even when they are off duty? I guess it's for the great pay cheque. Oh wait, the pay isn't that great. Hmmm...I guess it's because emergency services workers aren't human beings like the rest of society. That must be it. And this is backed up by the fact that emergency services workers are expected to work for long hours without eating, unlike the rest of society that has mandatory break periods in place that are regulated by provincial (I live in Canada) or state Acts. Working emergency services is a job that provides a pay cheque. What an employee does off duty should not be considered, as long as it was all opinion, and there weren't any lies made up.
John Bradshaw John Bradshaw Friday, April 06, 2012 1:03:38 PM News flash. Read the constitution. He has the right to say ANYTHING he wants about the government without fear of punishment. Gee he lost his job. Looks like he was punished. Violation of rights.
Rob Farmer Rob Farmer Friday, April 06, 2012 2:13:27 PM Then go for it, John. Knock yourself out. Take your case to the Supreme Court and establish new case law. You will be famous.
Wayland Slater Wayland Slater Friday, April 06, 2012 5:02:36 PM From what I can conclude is the guy just had it, enough was enough, and he "snapped". Everyone tends to do that from time to time. This new technology is just a new tool to use to express one's feelings. Yes, he might have went over board and didn't take into consideration of his actions/words. But even though he might have been deserved some kind of discipline, but not being dismissed. I know there were converstaions behind closed doors and supposidly to stay behind doors. But their were guys doing meaning tasks well begnieth their possition on the dept.
Wayland Slater Wayland Slater Friday, April 06, 2012 5:14:49 PM My 'puter did something funky and this how I had to do to edit just a little.::; From what I can conclude is the guy just had it, enough was enough, and he "snapped". Everyone tends to do that from time to time. This new technology is just a new tool to use to express one's feelings. Yes, he might have went over board and didn't take into consideration of his actions/words. But even though he might have been deserved some kind of discipline, but not being dismissed. I know there were converstaions behind closed doors and supposidly to stay behind doors. But their were guy doing meaning tasks well begnieth their possition on the dept. But I blame the use of the new technologies. If he had problems with the Chief or the organization of the dept. it's self, if then ask for a meeting. It might hafe been a yelling match, but I don't know. However it migjt have saved his job.
Rez Medic Rez Medic Friday, April 06, 2012 5:28:34 PM Just because he ranted DOES NOT mean his pt care sucks!! Just because he held his toungue DOES NOT mean his pt care is quality!!
Jason Clatt Jason Clatt Friday, April 06, 2012 6:42:36 PM if you don't have the balls to say it to the person face to face...don't do it on facebook...face book is not the place to badmouth just shows how imature that person is...
Kevin Hanes Kevin Hanes Friday, April 06, 2012 10:44:28 PM Awesome comments and discussion! Is anyone here a lawyer that has the ability to determine what each constitutional right means in current times? I for one can honestly say, I am not qualified to determine that, but can just believe the "short" form wrote cannot vary from person to person due to difference in opinions as to what they mean. Does that make sense?
John Bradshaw John Bradshaw Saturday, April 07, 2012 12:31:08 AM How many people hate their job? Wouldnt that constitute a social issue. Secondly why would he say anything. Political and social issues start at an individual level first.. ie kony. Looks like the supreme court wants to prevent any employee of the government from doing anything or saying anything against them. It always starts with one person...he opens his mouth till he finds another who agrees and it escalates from there. Maybe we should tear the constitution up? Hand over all our rights just because someone tells you.
Edward Hanes Edward Hanes Saturday, April 07, 2012 3:07:57 AM We don't have FREEDOM OF SPEECH ANY MORE.
George Yaworski George Yaworski Tuesday, April 10, 2012 7:05:24 AM Face book is not the medium for making any type of criticism of employers. He was in a Union, he should have followed a grevance policy, nothing you post on FB is truly private. If you don't like your job, feel free to blaze away, but if you want to keep your job use discretion. Firing maybe not, but definetly a "you are requested to cease..." then fire him if he didn't stop.
Rhonda McBride Rhonda McBride Monday, April 23, 2012 1:42:01 PM I think anyone who goes off like that in a semi-public forum is not fit or trustworthy to do a job that entailes close interaction with others. He's obviously not in control of his mouth, which is so sophomoric as to be ludicrous. Also the secretary should be ashamed of herself, the little tattle tale. He didn't threaten anyone, he was no invoking any fear in anyone...she had to be a brown nosing ass kisser. I hope she reads this.
Scott Atkins Scott Atkins Tuesday, April 24, 2012 4:20:26 AM So does this mean that we can be tried by the federal government everytime we lambast a politician? My belief is this: If the guy wrote those things on his PERSONAL COMPUTER, in HIS HOME, and on HIS TIME, then they are HIS OPINIONS. The Constitution of the United States of America is very clear in its intent for free speech. Go back in time and see what happened to people for speaking out against the King, or any other governing official, and you'll see why this privilige (NOT A RIGHT) is so important. You could face all manner of physical abuse up to, and including, death. Our founding fathers decided that a person had a right to speak their mind about anybody they wanted to, providing that they did not threaten their safety or lives. I believe that a person must also have facts behind their opinions before stating them as well. Think about it, folks; we are all different. Just becasue YOU like something, or feel that something is okay, doesn't mean that I do. You may LOVE the president. I do not. So if I speak my mind AGAINST him on FB, does that mean that I am breaking the law? Can I be held for whatever I say about him? The answer is "no". This man was fired based on things he said on his PRIVATE DOMAIN, even though it can be read in a public setting. But it is still HIS page. How would we like it if I told you what you can, and can't, do on YOUR page? Face it; we have become a wussified nation where we get offended at the drop of a hat. We spend entirely way too much time looking for what offends us than we do finding what makes us happy (unless being offended MAKES you happy). This country is called the great "melting pot" where people of all belifes, religions, creeds, whatever live together. Your opinion is no better than mine unless you have solid facts, that I do not possess, to back your opinions up. But they are still your opinions and unless there is 51% of this nation who hold the same opinion, they are merely YOUR opinion. I speak the truth about us being wussified because you can't turn on the news without hearing someone say that they are offended and filing a lawsuit against the offender. I also speak the truth concerning FB and OUR pages being OUR domain. I believe that the medic in question should be able to sue his chief, town, and the secretary for retalliation for his remarks on his private page. In closing, think about this: Suppose your windows to your house are open while you're bad-mouthing YOUR boss, and someone walks by and hears it. Doesn't the same rule apply there as well? You're INSODE your own house when you said what you said, so shouldn't you be held to the same standard?
Scott Atkins Scott Atkins Tuesday, April 24, 2012 4:22:54 AM If he did it on station, then YES he should be fired for conduct unbecoming. But since he was on HIS FB page, and no one elses, then no he shouldn't be fired. Reprimanded with anger management classes would be a better idea than to lose a medic.
Nicky Ray Nicky Ray Tuesday, April 24, 2012 6:38:17 AM Saying something in your living room and putting it on Facebook are two completely different things!
Todd Atkins Todd Atkins Tuesday, April 24, 2012 7:55:09 AM Wussified I believe that's a new word bro. And doesn't matter if it's Facebook or a news paper it's still freedom of speech till you say something false or damaging. Politicians and reporters play this game everyday.

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