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Facebook post firing: Former battalion chief in Howard County, MD sues to get job back.

MD Howard County facebook firing

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Howard County Department of Fire & Rescue Services social media policy

A former Howard County (MD) Department of Fire and Rescue Services battalion chief, Kevin Buker, is suing to get his job back. Buker’s lawyer, Edward Robson, contends that Buker’s First Amendment rights were violated when Buker was fired in March after posting comments to his personal Facebook page while on duty January 20th, a month after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut. Here are excerpts from the article by Arthur Hirsch, The Baltimore Sun:

Edward S. Robson, Buker’s lead lawyer, said the county made it “very clear” in his termination notice that “the reason they terminated him was because of the substance of his comments on Facebook,” not because he was spending time on social media while on duty.

Howard County Solicitor Margaret Ann Nolan said in an email that “the employment action taken did not violate the law; the specific arguments in support of that defense will be set out in our written response filed in court.”

Using his personal Facebook page that did not identify him as a member of the county fire department, the court document says Buker posted: “My aide had an outstanding idea. … Let’s kill someone with a liberal … then maybe we can get them outlawed too! Think of the satisfaction of beating a liberal with another liberal. … Its almost poetic.”

One of Buker’s Facebook friends, Mark Grutzmacher, responded online, saying, “But … was it an [assault] liberal’? Gotta pick a fat one, those are the ‘high capacity’ ones. Oh pick a black one, those are more ‘scary.’ Sorry, had to perfect on a cool idea!”

Buker “liked” Grutzmacher’s comment, adding, “Too cool, Mark Grutzmacher.”

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Comments - Add Yours

  • Fire21

    VERY inappropriate remarks on the Facebook posts. Illegal? Worth getting fired? I don’t know, I guess we’ll have to let the court decide that. It’s just a shame that some people can’t recognize when their mouths are out of line. Yet, why not say what’s on your mind?…It’s guaranteed as an American citizen.

    His comments infuriated people. Legislators say things every day that infuriate people. I guess the difference is that some comments insult others, while other comments just makes others mad.

  • waheid

    As a Battalion Chief, Buker was not only a government employee, but a manager as well. First Amendment rights aside, the posting and the response to his friend’s comment shows poor judgement. His comments also call into question Buker’s ability to manage Afro-American and liberal minded employees in a fair and unbiased manner. First Amendment rights are not absolute. When one accepts a government position, there are some restrictions that come into play. If you accept the king’s shilling, you must also abide by the king’s rules. As a retired USN officer, I am very conscious of the constraints on what I can say publicly. Local government officials, such as FD battalion chiefs, may not be restricted to the same extent, but neither do they have the same First Amendment rights as citizens who have not accepted a government position. While dismissal may have been a bit much, Buker’s action certainly warranted some administrative action.

  • IslaFire

    Legislators cannot be fired. They are voted in. Ditto what waheid says above. As public employees, you do not have the same 1A rights as ordinary citizens. Google “public employees first amendment” and start reading.

  • Former Chief

    People may agree or disagree with his comments on this issue, and that’s fine, but it was on his personal Facebook page and was not an “official” statement based on his position with the Fire Dept. This is America and we’re supposed to be able to have our own opinions and express those opinions within reason. I am very concerned that our freedom of speech is being eroded in cases such as this. Not knowing this individuals personnel history with the department, I think termination was excessive.

  • mdff

    As a Battalion Chief of an ever more leaning to the left,too close to DC county in Maryland what did he expect, sympathy. Wish him the best of luck with the rest of his struggles although knowing the Peoples Republic of Maryland he has little chance of getting his job back.

  • RJ in florida

    The way I understand how social media works in the context of being a member of local government is: you are allowed to comment (personally)on subjects of public concern that are alredy known (that is in a printed article), BUT if you comment as a Batt. Chief-on duty…the comments are not protected speech AND if your profile suggests or reveals where you work, you may not be protected at all because it suggests you are speaking for your department not yourself.

    if the dept does not have a social media policy that is clear, he might have a case

    as a black person I just have to accept his views as his own because nobody I know in the fire service is that STUPID to make a racially inflammatory comment on social media and not expect a backlash

  • IslaFire

    @mdff, you need to do some research into this. See my google search suggestion above. It is the right leaning court that has affirmed that public employees do not have blanket First Amendment protections.

    There is a lot of case law on this matter. Most pertain to on-duty speech or speech related to your duties. There are some though that apply to off-duty speech as well.

    The strange part about this is that a 15 year public employee, living off the taxes of others, is complaining about “liberal” politics. Dude, look in the mirror, you’re on the public dole, you receive benefits paid for by the taxpayers, your retirement is more than likely funded, at least in part, by the taxpayers. Why do you publicly criticize those that are defending your job and your benefits?

    It SMH when I see so many of our members chomping at the hands that feed them.

  • Mike F

    I find it absurd that this battalion chief was fired for the comments he made listed in the above article. In America,you are protected by the 1st amendment. That is not cancelled by being employed by a county, state or federal government. In a official capacity on government time, computers, websites etc., that is unacceptable. The article says these comments were made on his personal time, personal facebook page and personal computer. As a Howard County resident, I hope that Mr. Buker is reinstated with back pay and that the P. C. police (County Supervisors) that were involved in this travesty of justice suffer some form of sanction or penalty. It is apparent to me that some people under the county tax payers employ have way to much time on their hands.

    • dave statter

      Did it say his personal time? Let me go back and look but that’s not what I recall reading.