The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has ruled against former police office Ronald Dible, who was fired from his job with the Chandler, Arizona police department after his web site came to their attention. His web site was a showcase for pictures and video of his wife engaged in various solo and participatory sex acts, one of which apparently featured him – or, more correctly, his face. (I speculate that other pictures may have included less identifiable portions of his anatomy, but that’s neither here nor there).
In any event, when the web site came to light, his superiors asked him if he was involved with it, and he lied to them. Subsequent to the truth coming out, he was fired, and then sued to get his job back, claiming that the web site was protected expression under the First Amendment.
No, sez the federal court’s three judge panel. (Well, two of them, anyway – all three said he could be legitimately fired; one judge felt he was safe with the web site but could be fired for lying to his bosses; the other two joined in an opinion which emphasized the “sleazy,” “vulgar” and “indecent” aspects of the site as reason enough for the firing, since they could contribute to a lack of respect for the police department.
I agree with the result. Having not seen the site, I can’t know whether I agree it was “sleazy,” “vulgar” and “indecent” enough to bring disrepute on the police department of Chandler, AZ. But I believe that an employer – even a ploice department – should be free to fire someone if they want to, absent protected class implications. As the opinion points out, "“The Dibles did not intend to express any kind of message or engage in social or political commentary through the material they posted on their Web site…They participated in those activities to make money; it was as simple as that.” When the First Amendment interest is commercial, rather than artistic or political, I have zero heartburn in seeing it yield to the interests of an employer.
I imagine, however, that many if not most of the readers of this forum will disagree.