In September, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit held
an employee terminated for liking the campaign page of his boss's
political rival had engaged in constitutionally protected speech
under the First Amendment. Although the case involved only public
employees, the 4th Circuit's ruling in Bland v. Roberts is
likely to inform other court and/or agency decisions seeking to
assign legal significance to various forms of social media activity
and may have a lasting and far-reaching effect on private-sector
employers, as well.
In 2009, Sheriff B.J. Roberts of the Hampton Sheriff Department
in Virginia ran for re-election to his post after serving as
sheriff for 17 years. He was opposed by Jim Adams, a longtime
lieutenant colonel in the same office, who resigned to run for
election. During the campaign, two sheriff's deputies, Daniel
Carter and Robert McCoy, expressed their support for Adams rather
than Roberts via Facebook. Specifically, in late summer of 2009,
Carter "liked" Adams' Facebook campaign page and authored and
posted a message of encouragement. McCoy also posted an entry
indicating his support for Adams' candidacy though he did not
"Like" the Facebook page. Word of the two employees' Facebook
activity spread quickly among others in the office and eventually
Soon after learning of Carter and McCoy's Facebook activity,
Roberts addressed his employees' support for Adams in several
speeches he gave during various shift changes at the office. He
expressed displeasure with the decision of some to support Adams
and specifically communicated his disapproval of those who had
endorsed Adams through Facebook. During one of these meetings,
Roberts declared he would be sheriff for as long as he wanted and
stated anyone who openly supported Adams would lose his or her job.
Notably, after the meeting that occurred before Carter's shift,
Roberts angrily approached Carter and told him: "You made your bed,
and now you're going to lie in it. After the...
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