The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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August 9, 2012

Court mulls free speech implications of clicking 'like'


The like controversy is just one of many thorny issues surrounding social media in the workplace.

In April, the Marine Corps said it would discharge a sergeant who criticized President Barack Obama on his Facebook page — including allegedly putting the president's face on a poster for the movie "Jackass." And last fall, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that a New York nonprofit illegally fired five workers who criticized a colleague on the site.

The board, a federal agency that brings labor-related complaints on behalf of workers, said it had seen the number of cases involving social media skyrocket from zero to more than 100 over five years.

Carter's troubles began in the summer of 2009, when longtime Hampton Sheriff B.J. Roberts was running for reelection, according to the lawsuit, filed in federal court in Newport News, Va. in March 2011. Roberts learned that some of his employees, including Carter, were actively supporting another high-ranking Sheriff's Office official, Jim Adams, in the election.

Carter liked Adams's election page on Facebook, according to court records. When Roberts learned of the campaigning on the site, he became "incensed" and called a meeting of employees, according to the lawsuit. He allegedly told them that he would be sheriff for "as long as I want it."

After the meeting, the lawsuit says, Roberts approached Carter and told him: "You made your bed, now you're going to lie in it — after the election you're gone."

About a month after Roberts was reelected, Carter and five other employees who supported Adams or did not actively campaign for Roberts were fired, according to the lawsuit. The other employees are also parties in the lawsuit. Carter and his attorneys did not return calls for comment.

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