St. Louis County Circuit Court Judge issues order modifying provisions of a social media policy that the District’s board of directors launched to control employee use of Facebook, Twitter and other social media before April 7 election

MARCH 26, 2015, St. Louis County, Missouri… A social media policy launched by the Monarch Fire Protection District Board of Directors just weeks before the April 7 election for which director and board President Robin Harris is a candidate for re-election was ordered modified by a circuit judge on Wednesday.

St. Louis County Circuit Court Associate Judge Mary Elizabeth Ott responded to a petition for a Temporary Restraining Order filed on March 22 by the Professional Fire Fighters of Eastern Missouri, Local 2665, whose firefighters and paramedics serve the district. Judge Ott modified provisions of the social media policy, which the firefighters dispute on multiple counts, and agreed to hear the firefighters’ petition for preliminary and permanent injunction on May 28, 2015. The firefighters also filed a Petition for Declaratory Judgment.

The Judge’s order, which effects off-duty use of social media by district employees, reads as follows:

“The Monarch Fire Protection District agrees that the social media policy adopted by the District on March 12, 2015, will not be used to penalize or discipline District employees for the off duty use of social media to make remarks, give opinions, or make statements related to elections or candidates, unless the speech is not constitutionally protected (for example, is knowingly false or deceptive).”

“We are not against adopting a social media policy in the Monarch Fire Protection District,” said Andrew T Stecko,

3rd District Vice President, Professional Firefighters of Eastern Missouri, IAFFLocal 2665.

“But the District launched that social media policy without consulting with our representatives about the policy’s final draft language, despite agreements to do so.

“We question the timing and intent by the Monarch board of directors to activate the policy just weeks before an election when the board president is up for re-election, and without seeking our opinions about the policy’s final draft.

“In addition, we believe aspects of the board’s social media policy violate district employees’ constitutionally protected rights to free speech, and that much of the policy’s language and definitions are so vague or non-specific that employees may not know if they are violating the policy, or not.”

“During February’s Labor / Management Planning Team session our representatives spoke up about the district’s proposed Social Media Policy. All members of the Labor / Management Planning Team agreed that we would discuss any final draft of the social media policy prior to implementation. The discussion did not occur.

“The district’s decision to unilaterally impose this policy, the policy’s pre-election timing for activation, and the board’s decision to not meet with firefighter/paramedic representatives prior to the policy’s implementation on March 12 left us with no choice but to file a petition for a temporary restraining order and to seek a permanent injunction,” Stecko said.

The district’s social media policy purports to set guidelines for district employees regarding employee use of Facebook, Twitter, blogs, websites, online forums, webcasts, podcasts, net casts and similar online venues while the employees are both on duty and off duty. The Judge’s order only effects off duty use of social media.

Violations of the policy would subject employees to potential disciplinary actions, including termination from their job.

Monarch firefighters and paramedics believe the purpose of the district’s policy is to suppress speech and attempt to regulate employees’ speech and opinions.

“We are pleased that Judge Ott’s ruling modified provisions of the district’s restrictive social media policy, and we welcome the court’s review of this case in May,” said Stecko. All other issues involving the legality of the policy are to be heard by the Court on May 28.

For information, contact Andrew T. Stecko, 3rd District Vice President, Professional Firefighters of Eastern Missouri, at 636 368 6123.