Last week ESPN sportsshow host Jamele Hill sent out a Tweet on Twitter that called President Trump a "white supremacist." In response and in proving that President Trump may watch more of ESPN than good for someone supposedly working hard on behalf of the American people, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders asserted that Hill's statement was a "fireable offense."
So is it? Is criticizing the President a fireable offense? Is calling the President a racist or a white supremacist a fireable offense? There are a few things to consider.
First, while everyone has First Amendment rights of free speech, which most certainly include criticizing the President, this free speech doesn't have much if any application to an employee working for a private company like ESPN. It's a different story for someone working for a government or public entity. The reason for the difference is that the First Amendment prohibits only government conduct not private company conduct.
Second, so if the federal constitution doesn't protect the private company employee, what about state law? I don't see any protection under Kentucky law. I read, however, that Connecticut, where Ms. Hill works for ESPN, has a state law that prohibits a private company from taking certain adverse employment actions against an employee based on the employee's exercise of her constitutional rights, which, oddly enough, comes from Sports Illustrated, What Happens If ESPN Attempts to Fire Jemele Hill Over Trump Tweets? So it may be that Ms. Hill has some protection unique to her and others working in Connecticut.
Lexington, Kentucky employment lawyer Robert Abell represents individuals and employees in employment law cases; contact him at 859-254-7076.