A former police officer claims in a lawsuit that Greenville, South Carolina officials violated her free speech rights by firing her over comments on a social networking site.
The Delta Democrat Times reported that former Sgt. Susan Graziosi was fired May 9 after posting comments on her Facebook page. The lawsuit says the comment was, “Dear Mayor, can we please get a leader that understands that a department sends officers (to) the funeral of an officer killed in the line of duty?”
The comment allegedly was in response to Greenville’s decision not to send a representative to Pearl police officer Mike Walter’s funeral. Walter was killed May 1 in the line of duty.
The lawsuit targets Greenville, Mayor Chuck Jordan and Police Chief Freddie Cannon.
“Ms. Graziosi and I hope that the process of this lawsuit will serve as a good civics lesson to the mayor and the police chief about the limits of their power to punish city employees for speaking out to the community about community-wide issues,” Graziosi’s attorney, Jackson-based J. Brad Pigott, said. “We look forward to that lawsuit process and hope that it serves a constructive purpose.”
City Attorney Andy Alexander acknowledged the suit against the city.
“I can confirm that a lawsuit has been filed on behalf of Ms. Graziosi’s claims,” Alexander said. “The city will defend the lawsuit.
“We just received notice of this matter a few days ago, but we cannot further comment.”
Documents included in the suit include one on City of Greenville letterhead that states Graziosi was fired for violation of the Greenville Police Department’s policy and procedure manual.
The same document lists the reasons for Graziosi’s termination as violation of discipline and accountability, insubordination and violation of rules of conduct.
An internal investigation of the allegations brought before Graziosi was done on May 9 by Greenville Police Lt. Brian Payne and Lt. Misty Litton. The investigators asked Graziosi to pull up her Facebook page, where they found posts about the City of Greenville.
Graziosi appealed her firing to Jordan, who recommended the council uphold Cannon’s decision. The city council sided with Cannon and the mayor, and upheld Graziosi’s firing.
The suit claims Graziosi suffered economic and mental damages. Graziosi seeks to be compensated for her losses as well as punitive damages, attorney fees and litigation expenses associated with the suit
Graziosi’s claim is part of a trend raising concern in employment circles. The National Labor Relations Board has seen a rise in employee complaints over firings related to social media activities.