Virginians Have a Right to Free Speech, Not a Right to a Job

Can an employer in Virginia fire an employee for his loathsome political views?

Such a thing is happening in Patrick County, where emergency management technician Alex McNabb is being fired for making derogatory comments and using racial slurs on a neo-Nazi podcast. There is no evidence that McNabb has discriminated against anyone while providing emergency care, but his online persona often tells stories about being an EMT interacting with African-Americans.

The board of directors of the JEB Stuart Rescue Squad voted unanimously Sunday to terminate McNabb’s employment, reports the Martinsville Bulletin.

Legally, the case should be cut-and-dried. Virginia is an employment-at-will state, and employers have the right to fire anyone for any reason (save on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation). McNabb has a constitutional right to freedom of speech. In other words, government cannot use its powers of coercion to silence him. But he doesn’t have a constitutional right to be protected from the consequences of his speech. Employers have a right to disassociate themselves from people whose views they find abhorrent.  Suck it up, dude.

Now, let’s make sure we apply the employment-at-will principal consistently, not just when the offender is a neo-Nazi.

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7 responses to “Virginians Have a Right to Free Speech, Not a Right to a Job

  1. In earlier news reports, it was the claim he had been discussing cases – and deriding patients – that struck me as the most disturbing and clear grounds for dismissal. What took so long?

  2. I have no problem firing this guy but how does society square this with the “First Amendment Right” of NFL players to take a knee during the National Anthem while they are at work and being paid? I realize this sails over the head of the average MSM journalist and the snowflakes but double standards should trouble thoughtful people of all political persuasions.

    If we had and enforced one set of rules across the board, absent good reasons to create neutral exceptions, we’d have a lot fewer problems in this country.

  3. I guess I saw the NFL players advocating against racist policies – like this guy was apparently practicing.

    We equate the two?

    • Larry – the issue is whether a employer can control a employee’s speech while on the job or when otherwise representing his/her employer.

      The EMT who was fired was talking about his job as an EMT and his interaction with black people and using racist remarks. Therefore, he was drawing a connection between himself as a county employee and his racist views.

      NFL players have on-job speech restrictions that have been interpreted by the employer as covering conduct (speech) during the National Anthem. It’s no different than Patrick County’s standards.

      You seem to want a rule that restricts or permits inciteful speech based on its content. Employers can enforce employment rules based on what is said or not said. For example, an NFL player can take a knee during the National Anthem to protest racism but an NFL player cannot wear a jacket with Build the Wall on the back during the National Anthem to protest illegal immigration. That’s what’s done in repressive countries.

      We need one set of rules.

      • I agree. It was Justice Holmes who said it best, “If there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other, it is the principle of free thought—not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate.”

        As Jim alludes, society usually applies “freedom of speech” broadly, while it legally applies only to government actions, not private ones. So, a restaurant owner cannot refuse to serve a black person because he is black, but he can throw him out of the restaurant because of excessive cursing. Because it was the board of directors of the rescue squad that fired the EMT, it was not a government, but a private organization, taking action against him.
        As for the NFL, two players did lose their jobs without the teams suffering any legal consequences because government was not involved. But those were isolated incidences. When more NFL players began kneeling, the owners backed off, probably, I think, due to the bad PR and the reluctance to suspend lots of the members of their teams (after all, they do want to win games, most of all).

  4. Again, an NFL player making a political statement unrelated to his job is very different than a service provider, covered by patient confidentiality and needing the public’s confidence to be effective, going onto a radio show to discuss calls and ridicule his patients. I suspect if we knew all the details that was a big part of his dismissal. As is often the case with personnel matters, we may never know.

  5. Is there is distinction between the Board of Directors of the rescue squad and county government in this case? Somewhere in these posts someone mentioned County Government, which would ordinarily put it in the realm of 1st amendment protection. However, as one poster put it, if he’s remarking on the cases he treats, that would be independent grounds for dismissal.

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