Derek Fenton’s 11-year career with NJTransit went up in flames when photos of him burning torn pages from a Qur’an at a protest outside Park51on September 11 appeared in newspapers. He was heard saying “If they can burn our flag we can burn their Qur’an” – as he ripped and lit.
And indeed, after police detained him they let him go without charges filed against him. He had exercised his freedom of speech. So, why was he let go from his job?
NJ Transit said Fenton was fired but wouldn’t give specifics. “Mr. Fenton’s public actions violated New Jersey Transit’s code of ethics,” an agency statement said.
“NJ Transit concluded that Mr. Fenton violated his trust as a state employee and therefore [he] was dismissed.”
Fenton attended the protest during non-work hours. It’s probable that his First Amendment rights were violated, according to Christopher Dunn, Associate Legal Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.
Without having a copy of the NJTransit at my disposal to review, I suppose it’s always possible that his employer deemed his behavior as a violation to some safety protocol, perhaps danger of inciting retaliation in the form of explosives planted on a train or bus. Nonetheless, he was off work and his expression is protected by the First Amendment.
I think most people would sue for wrongful termination in this case, and if the ACLU has his backside Fenton might have a good chance at some type of award or settlement. I personally would never want my job back at the place I had been fired from. On the other hand, I wouldn’t conduct myself in a manner that could cause greater harm than good. But, that’s just me…
In the meantime, Fenton’s friends have set up a Facebook Fan Page to help him get a new job. It doesn’t have many fans but as we all know, it only takes one.
What do you think of this guy’s behavior and do you have an example of an employer mandating off work behavior?