Recently I spoke at Utah Valley University about the private regulation of speech, particularly in businesses curtailing not just workplace speech but speech outside of the workplace. We have discussed such incidents where people were fired for YouTube videos or drunken scenes. This “little brother” problem falls outside of the first amendment which addresses government regulation of speech. As a result, businesses have wide latitude in punishing employees for private conduct, though some states have laws protecting some forms of speech and employment such as voting and political activities. We have a new such case involving a woman in Ontario who shot and posted a video of her berating a neighbor for flying a Mexican flag. The video caused many to be understandably angry with Tressy Capps, who didn’t seem to see how obnoxious she appeared in her own posted video. However, it has not escaped her employer, which proceeded to fire her.
The video below is incredibly insulting and intolerant in my view. Capps suggests that the family might want to move back to Mexico simply because they are flying the Mexican flag. Capps is described as a political activist and asks woman in the window
“Is that a Mexican flag in your front yard?” Capps is heard asking the homeowner, who is behind a window. You know we live in America right? This is the United States. So, why are you flying a Mexican flag in your front yard?”
The woman did not appear to understand English. Her husband Sigifredo Banuelos later told the media that he did not see what was offensive about flying the Mexican flag and that they fly both the American and Mexican flags.
Capps posted her video and not surprisingly received a harsh response. Her real estate company was not amused and fired her from an independent contactor position. For a real estate company in an area with a large Hispanic population, the decision was probably not viewed as a particularly difficult one. While the public confrontation did not involve her work, it certainly involved the clientele of her work. She made herself a liability and businesses are first to remove at-will employees who harm the bottom line.
I believe that there should be protection for private employees engaging in protected speech. However, when an employee seeks such notoriety and becomes such a liability, there is a stronger basis for the company acting to protect its business interests.