Florida Boss’ Punishment for Racist Email Overturned

A Florida union boss can’t be punished for making racially offensive email because it was written in the course of union business, ruled arbitrator Roger I. Abrams.

Fla. State Univ. issued a three-day suspension for a unnamed clerk-typist, who also served as president of an Am. Fed’n of State, County & Municipal Employees local.  The suspension was based on the contents of an e-mail that the typist sent to FSU’s inspector general criticizing his questioning of an AFSCME steward concerning the alleged fixing of parking tickets.

AFSCME argued that the e-mail was entitled to constitutional protection and that “tolerance [should] be shown for someone who expresses the viewpoint of the oppressed.”

Abrams ruled that just cause did not support the typist’s suspension. The typist was conducting union business in her capacity as union president at the time she sent the e-mail, which was intended to protect the union steward.  Abrams reasoned that while her impassioned speech and name-calling were regrettable, these errors were commonplace in labor relations.

Abrams concluded that FSU couldn’t discipline a union boss for offensive speech made in the course of conducting union business. A suspension for this type of speech could chill union bosses from performing their union functions, he reasoned.  Abrams directed FSU to make the typist whole for the suspension period and to expunge the discipline from her personnel records. [Nat’l Public Employment Rep. 7/5/00]