Firefighter Fired Over Facebook Post of Virtual Firefighter Video

HATZEL VELA
WCSC 5
Reprinted with Permission

COLLETON COUNTY, SC - A Colleton County paramedic and firefighter was fired over a video he posted on Facebook.

On February 11, Jason Brown was called into the director's office and questioned about the video he posted the previous night.

The Facebook post takes you to a YouTube-like site, where a video almost three minutes in length shows an exchange between two cartoon characters at a hospital.

One is a doctor, the other a paramedic.

In a letter of dismissal Brown provided, Colleton County Fire-Rescue Director Barry McRoy said, "You [Brown] displayed poor judgment in producing a derogatory video depicting a member of this department with a physician which is implied to be at Colleton Medical Center."

"There was no malicious attack to anybody involved personally or countywide or any certain department ever," said Brown, who spent two hours making what he described as a text-to-movie video.

On the web site xtranormal.com, you can create characters and even make them look like you. Users can type in a script and the cartoon-like character will say what you write.

"I'm not trying to make any doctor or any nurse look stupid," Brown said.

He said he wasn't even talking about Colleton Medical. He only used the name of a doctor who works at that hospital because he had recently seen him at a party.

It was supposed to be a funny, exaggerated and an almost unbelievable story of real life on-the-job experiences, Brown said.

"It's just general things that go on in the day-to-day business of us running calls within any fire department, any EMS," he added.

The dismissal letter also said, "This video has created an embarrassing situation for this department, our public image and the cooperative relationship we enjoy with Colleton Medical Center. It reflects poorly on you and Colleton County."

Brown appealed the decision, but his appeal was denied.

[See the rejection of appeal letter (pdf).]

Brown never meant any harm, he said.

"If I knew it was going to give me this much headache, I never would have made it in the first place," he added.

Brown said he was told his video was racist because the cartoon character playing the doctor role was African-American and during one of the exchanges the character said, "I don't want to lose my job and go back to being a janitor."

"That was never, ever in my actions or even thoughts when I made the video," Brown said.

When making the video, a black doctor was the only option offered, he added.

Getting fired was a little overboard, he said.

McRoy wouldn't give details about the Brown's firing because he said he couldn't discuss personnel matters.

But he said the Facebook incident wasn't the only reason Brown was fired.

Brown said he has never been seriously reprimanded and points to the dismissal letter as proof the Facebook post was the only reason he was fired.

If asked to take down the post, he would have done it and that would have been the end, he said.

Brown said after he was fired, he was escorted to the station where he returned all his gear, while two officers supervised him.

"I felt like a criminal," he said.

Prior to working at Colleton County Fire-Rescue for three and a half years, he worked at Berkeley County EMS and Goose Creek City Fire.

He said he left those two places because Colleton County paid more.

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Not in South Carolina. Civil suits are heard by juries unless both parties agree to a judicial trial - one heard exclusively by the judge.

Check into the lawsuits defended by the big tobacco companies. The plaintiffs love to have trials in South Carolina, based on the large damage amounts awarded by some SC juries. You can bet that the tobacco companies would have those trials without a jury if they had the option.
Art, Mr. Brown will have a tough time getting a wrongful termination case into court in South Carolina, due to the state "employment at will" statute that covers virtually all public employees.

Public employees in South Carolina can be legally fired for anything, everything, or nothing.
Tamara, perhaps you may want to go back and read some of the posts about this, especially those by Art "ChiefReason" Goodrich, concerning this issue before making such a remark.
Yes, it's all semantics. I am not minimizing your valid point, it’s just that the bottom line is that if the firefighter (respondent) doesn't want a trial by judge, there won't be one. In this case, it will depend on whether or not the firefighter is innocent on the “law” or not. He probably won’t know this until he consults with an attorney.

Most people that are guilty of something want a jury trial. They are hoping to manipulate the jury in some way. That is why the vast majority of “criminal” cases are by jury. Defendants know that judges understand the law and can’t be easily manipulated.

On the other hand, if you are innocent (on the “law”) you probably want a trial by judge because you don’t want the outcome of your case to be dictated by the antics of a good opposing attorney.

Just my opinion…

Joe
Art
I think that if you looked further into the suspension it was probably because his vehicle was on department property or the first ammendment would have stood. That is the case where I work. I think a precedent needs to be set. I dont know a firefighter, police officer or anyone in the military that signed away their constitutional rights to obtain their public service career. The concept that we work and are paid for a 40,42,56 hour work week but are on duty for 168 hours a week ( emergency call backs are reimbursed) is redicules and borderline socialist. The constitution does not address "public preception" or "political correctness" period. What firefighter "Smith" does while not on duty as long as its not felonous is his business. Thats the great thing about this country... you can beat your chest and brag about your company or department or mock the foolish policies and proceedures that some employee. If this kind of foolishness is not confronted and stopped where will it end... your employeer tells you who to vote for, where to shop, what kind of car to buy?? I think Iran is struggeling with this issue now.
Hey Ben,

I just want to say that I don't think that "employment at will" statutes mean that "public employees in South Carolina can be legally fired for anything, everything, or nothing".

They can't be fired for being black (or pink), Jewish or Catholic, straight or gay....etc..

Each case needs to be heard on it's merits and then decided. What if it turns out that the person who fired him had an axe to grind with him?

My wife is calling me... have to watch a movie with the family... Later

joe
Joe,

I don't know where that came from, but it's not pertinent in South Carolina law. As I stated, both parties here have to request a judicial trial to get one, otherwise the civil trial is conducted by jury.

"Most people that are guilty of something want a jury trial."
I'd like to see some kind of evidence for that - a study, a poll of convicted defendants, something...

If we're going to compoare personal opinions, I'd propose that most people that are "guilty of something" don't want any trial.
Rick,

There is no Constitutional issue here. The issue is that the person in question singled out on of his local medical control physicians for ridicule while identifying himself as a CCFR firefighter-paramedic. This has nothing to do with public perception, political correctness, shift schedules, or socialism. There was no vote coercion, no directed shopping, or car purchase involved. Iran was not involved.

This issue has to do with the specific right of a fire-rescue department to protect its professional relationships with the local medical community from activities that could possibly be construed as slanderous. It also bears on the physician's rights - something that a lot of the firefighters who have responded "conveniently" have forgotten to mention. The firefighter has no right to drag his department into the liability that comes with defending a slander lawsuit caused by the firefighter's lack of discretion in what he posted and how he did it.

The right to free speech doesn't include slander - there is absolutely no right to do that on duty or off.
Rick:
If I recall, the firefighter with the sign in the back of his pick up was suspended under their "no politicking while on duty" clause. The pick up was parked at the fire station.
Now; in my many replies, I have never said that I agree with the termination; only the right of the employee to post it and the right of the employer to terminate, if it violated terms of the employment contract. Where contracts are involved, right or wrong has nothing to do with it. It becomes a contract violation or contractual obligation.
And no; I didn't have an employer tell me how to vote, where to shop or buy some kind of car.
That was the union that I belonged to. They told us to vote straight ticket Democratic and to only "buy American". UAW.
Ah; the good ole days. That was also before Al Gore invented the internet.
Good discussion, I must say.
I felt it displayed a lack of professionalism by the ff/pm rather than the doctor. I don't remember studying the need to read lab work in emergency medicine so why would it be a concern of the pm. In real life if you have a concerned about the doctors orders you would follow the doctors request for the transfer then follow it up with your superiors or medical director. So the whole thing was pretty silly. Seems to me the guy has a beef with doctors.
Art,
You are so right!! I have know of a couple of incidents where people have been diciplined for stickers etc. and the only basis was that the vehicle was parked on dept. property and the sticker was offensive, of course offensive was the opinion of the current administration.
Ben,
I have to disagree to a point. It's obvious to me that that this is a civil matter and a civil matter only. Let the physician sue for libel or slander as he sees fit and lets await the outcome. If you look at the bigger picture and are aware of the policies some of the larger suburban and urban departments in this great country are currently implementing concerning freedom of speech or other constitutional rights to dicipline or terminate current employees, it criminal. Political correctness and public perception are all that matters, your rights, the facts or the truth are often overlooked. I had a Chief a few years ago explain to me that it was OK for him to put you on charges for accuasions, especially if they were public. It was then up to you to prove them wrong. His rational was that it would take approximately 3 years to go through the court/ legal system and by then most individuals would have lost their home , probably been divorced and all we " THE DEPARTMENT" would have to do is say were sorry and give you some money, so we won. I have never forgot that conversation and unfortunately have had to watch those policies enforced more than once. Be niave if you want, my reality says to confront and challange these egomaniacs based on the consitution to preserve your constitutional and basic human rights.... enjoy your next lemons to lemonade siminar and I'll keep being a fireman. These ignorant policies are not just in my jurisdiction so keep your eyes open my friend.
It is pertinent if the firefighter decides to bring a lawsuit. He can bring a lawsuit just as easily as the doctor can. He lost his job over this. This would not be a frivolous lawsuit. If after conferring with an attorney the attorney says that he would win on the law, then the firefighter would at least “consider” or “propose” a trial by judge (bench trial). But then of course if they could win on the law, the other side wouldn’t agree to the bench trial. See what I mean?

If on the other hand, the attorney tells him that he doesn’t think he would win on the law, then the firefighter would be glad to get the jury trial (which is what I think would be his best bet), with the hopes of playing on the sympathy of the jury that he lost his job over something that he will contend “unintentionally” caused embarrassment to the plaintiffs. He will argue that it was without malice and just “stupid” on his part, but not rising to the level of being removed from his livelihood. He’ll have all sorts of character witnesses and perhaps if he has a family his wife will testify as to what a “good husband and father” he is. His citations and medals for bravery, etc will come out (in great detail), how he crawled on his belly through the smoke and fire…etc… how he made numerous pre-hospital saves… etc…

The point I’m trying to make is that his attorney will pull on the heartstrings of the jurors and manipulate whatever facts he can to get the best outcome for his client. After all, what civilian wants to see a real life “hero” lose his job over a foolish mistake made out of frustration?

See how this plays out?

Also, don’t forget, he will be allowed to defend his cartoon, and what if he can show that the doctor really is incompetent? What then? Does the hospital really want the public to see the doctor called to the stand and get questioned about that incident (in particular) and medical procedure (in general) for 2 hours?

As far as the numbers for defendants asking for bench trials versus jury trials, I base that on my experience working for the courts as a Deputy U.S. Marshal for three years. I’m pretty sure that if you research it you will find out that what I say is true…

Look, there are so many different possibilities in which direction this case could go it is just too early to know. There is always the possibility that the firefighter doesn’t do anything and just moves on with his life. It’s not what I would do but it is conceivable. Lawyers cost money. He may not have the money to pursue getting his job back…

Joe

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