SOCIAL WORKER WAS FIRED UNJUSTLY FOR TELLING RACIST JOKE SAYS COURT IN MASSACHUSETTS

by Todd Wiese toddw@theroc.org

In October of 1998 a court in Massachusetts ruled that the Department of Social Services unjustly fired Social Worker, Linda Pereira, for telling a racist joke to a colleague at a private party on February 5, 1996. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, Pereira had told the joke to a city official sitting next to her after they had told her a sexist joke. However, someone at the table overheard the racist joke and reported it to the local press, who in turn mistakenly said that the joke was actually part of a speech regarding voting irregularities by Pereira. On April 10, 1996 she was fired.

Suffolk Superior Court Judge, Herman Smith, ordered Pereira have her job reinstated with back pay, although the judge did find the joke to be "racist and utterly detestable." This did not change the reason why he ruled in favor of the social worker - the constitution. Citing that "a reasonable official would have understood that firing the plaintiff for making a racist comment at an event not open to the public violated her right to free speech," Judge Smith ruled that by firing Linda Pereira, the Department of Social Services Commissioner, Linda Carlisle, was liable for violating Pereira's First Amendment rights and ordered her to pay damages to Pereira in an amount to be determined at another hearing.

Racism is indeed a terrible thing and is in no way endorsed by Rock Out Censorship. What is also terrible though, is censoring what people say in private conversation. Yes, racism has torn this nation apart and continues to do so. But, discriminating against people in the workplace for what they say to another person in confidence will only bridge the gap wider between races. Let the punishment fit the crime, we say. The party, the conversation, and the joke had nothing to do with Pereira's job criteria or performance, which at the time had been spotless.

Rock Out Censorship applauds Judge Smith for his ruling on this matter and hopes that employers in general will focus on employees' performance on the clock and not on what they say on their own free time.

Thanks again to The American Civil Liberties Union for the information: http://www.aclu.org

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