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Palm Beach County Fire Rescue employees file lawsuit over Facebook posts

Posted at 4:55 PM, May 16, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-16 18:14:44-04

Two fire rescue captains are suing Palm Beach County over Facebook posts.

Fire Rescue says they broke social media policy, but Captains AJ O'Laughlin and Captain Crystal Little say the county and fire rescue violated their free speech rights.

The lawsuit says that while Captain O'Laughlin was running for union president in February of this year, he posted a photo of what he called "an attempt by the union's first executive vice president, another captain, aided by Fire Rescue Department management, to ensure that he had Thanksgiving and Christmas days off with pay, at the expense of union members."

O'Laughlin said he posted that he thought this was unethical and told people to call the inspector general. The lawsuit says Captain Crystal Little then commented on that post, using a curse word to describe the staffing officer's approval of the overtime.

The captains claim they were given written warnings for violating fire rescue's social media policy after the union vice president made a complaint.

Fire Rescue's policy says employees cannot post anything that "might be interpreted by management as undermining the public trust and confidence required by employees of Fire Rescue or reflecting negatively upon the agency or its mission."

The captains allege their First Amendment rights were violated because the posts were made in an invitation-only Facebook group O'Laughlin created for his campaign.

They want a judge to order Palm Beach County to remove the discipline issued to each of them and to have fire rescue "cease enforcing its social-media policy to govern private speech and to delete those parts of its social media policy that prohibit FR Department personnel from criticizing management through social media about matters of public concern."

Captain O'Laughlin lost that union race.

He's been in the news before after he pleaded guilty to reckless driving, and was seen on body camera video slurring his words during his arrest.
The county says it cannot comment on open litigation.