A former fire investigator for the Charlotte, North Carolina Fire Department was awarded $1.5 million by a jury who found the investigator had been fired in retaliation for voicing safety concerns about construction work on a fire department office building.
The Charlotte Fire Department fired Crystal Eschert in 2014, claiming a controversial facebook comment she posted on her personal page was offensive and inflammatory and could have ignited trouble in Charlotte at a time when riots broke out in Ferguson, Missouri, over police slayings.
Eschert’s facebook comment said:
“White guy shot by police yesterday near Ferguson … Where is Obama? Where is Holder? Where is Al Sharpton? Where are Trayvon Martin’s parents? Where are all the white guys supporters? So is everyone MAKING it a racial issue? So tired it’s a racial thing. If you are a thug and worthless to society, it’s not race – You’re just a waste no matter what religion, race or sex you are.”
Ms. Eschert and her lawyer maintained that the City of Charlotte and the fire department used the facebook post as a cover for her firing, which they claim was a retaliatory measure taken after Ms. Eschert complained of safety problems.
According to The Charlotte Observer, an attorney for the city portrayed Ms. Eschert in trial as “a disgruntled employee who wanted a nicer office – not a legitimate whistleblower.” Counsel for the defense maintained that, as a city investigator, Ms. Eschert had to be held to a high standard and that her controversial facebook comments were potentially explosive to law and order.
“What she wrote was a judgment on human life,” an attorney for the city said her closing statement, after arguing that Ms. Eschert’s comments jeopardized the public’s trust in her.
Ms. Eschert and her lawyer refuted those assertions, pointing to racially charged comments some members of the fire department made online that went unaddressed by the city.
After deliberation, the jury concluded that Ms. Eschert was retaliated against because she was a whistleblower.
“After reading the post in its entirety, she was expressing the frustrations people had with what was going on in the country. She has a right to do so. I don’t agree with it, but she a right to do so,” one juror, who asked not to be identified, told The Charlotte Observer.
The city said whether it plans to appeal the jury’s verdict.