Charlotte public employee fights dismissal over Ferguson comments

A Charlotte Fire Department employee is fighting her dismissal for posting a racially-charged comment on Facebook about the Ferguson police shooting.

The city's NPR affiliate said in a report Thursday that Crystal Eschert’s September firing has sparked a debate over the First Amendment rights of public employees.

Eschert was working as a Charlotte fire investigator when Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown.

After the shooting, she went on Facebook to ask why another police shooting near Ferguson involving a white victim wasn’t drawing the same amount of attention as the Brown shooting.

“Where is Obama?” she wrote. “Where is Holder? Where is Al Sharpton? Where are Trayvon Martin’s parents? Where are all the white guy supports” So WHY is everyone MAKING it a racial issue?!? So tired of hearing it’s a racial thing. If you are a thug and worthless to society, it’s not race -- You’re just a waste no matter what religion, race or sex you are!”

Charlotte City Manager Ron Carlee told the station Eschert’s comments were discriminatory and inflammatory. Eschert is white. Her Facebook post did not identify her as a Charlotte employee. She was fired after someone emailed the comments to city officials.

Still, one legal expert believes her comments are protected free speech.

“She said something that at best was racially insensitive, but on a public issue on a private page,” said Guy Charles of Duke University’s Center on Law, Race and Politics. “Between the hand that she’s holding and the hand that the city’s holding, I think I’d prefer to have her hand.”

But another legal expert said that while Eschert has First Amendment protections as a government employee, they are not absolute.

“I’m inclined to say the employee has a pretty strong case here, but when it comes to the government acting as an employer, the legal rules are quite vague,” UCLA Law Professor Eugene Volokh told NPR.

The station said Eschert wasn’t talking, but believes her firing has more to do with blowing the whistle on a city building to the City Council.