Faith Linthicum, a labor and delivery nurse at Kaiser Permanente Roseville Medical Center in California, has been forced on leave for writing on Facebook that Stephon Clark, the unarmed black man who was fatally shot by police, “deserved it for being stupid.” This is the latest example of employees being fired for expressing their views outside of work, including prior controversies involving nurses. Update: the hospital has fired Linthicum.
We have previously discussed the issue of when it is appropriate to punishment people for conduct outside of the work place. We have followed cases where people have been fired after boorish or insulting conduct once their names and employers are made known. (here and here and here and here). I often come down on the side of free speech, but some cases directly impact the employer and the underlying business or services. This may be one such case, but it, again, raises the question of what political and social views are protected for employees to express in social media or on their personal time.
As the Sacramento Bee reported, Linthicum posted the following:
“Yeah but he was running from the police jumping over fences and breaking in peoples house…why run??!!! He deserved it for being stupid.”
Linthicum did not speak as a nurse, but activist Christina Arechiga researched her identity and found her Facebook profile. She then posted her background information.
Linthicum’s short statement set off a public outcry on social media. In response, Kaiser Permanente denounced its own nurse for a view that she expressed outside of her job:
“Kaiser Permanente does not tolerate hate or discrimination and has a long history of embracing diversity and inclusion – it remains a place where we welcome everyone. We want to emphasize that the comments expressed by this employee, who is no longer with the organization, do not in any way reflect Kaiser Permanente’s views or actions.”
Linthicum is now being investigated while on leave. People applauded the decision without considering the implications of this “Little Brother” problem where private employers (acting outside of the free speech protections of the first amendment) censor or punish people for their political or social or religious views. There is no indication from Kaiser Permanente how it will monitor the views of employees outside of work, including the standards to apply. Would a posting denouncing the police as racist or deserving the same fate cause a termination? Will Kaiser Permanente also monitor and punish other opinions that the company does not agree with — forcing employees to forego free speech rights in exchange of their employment?