"Lewis F. Powell, Jr. Courthouse" by Acroterion licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

CIR Appeals Workplace Free Speech Decision

CIR is appealing a district court decision in our workplace free speech case, Krehbiel v. BrightKey. Greg Krehbiel, the former vice president of operations for BrightKey, Inc., was fired after coworkers protested political comments that he made in an off-work podcast.  On March 4, U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett granted BrightKey’s motion to dismiss. CIR filed an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

Judge Bennett held that BrightKey did not violate federal civil rights law because no person with the authority to remove Krehbiel acted from an unlawful discriminatory motive. Only Krehbiel’s coworkers objected to Krehbiel’s podcasts, and they did not have the authority to fire him. Having rejected the federal claim, the court declined to accept jurisdiction over the state law political opinion discrimination claim.

CIR argued that by firing Krehbiel in response to the protest, and knowing that the protesters wanted BrightKey to fire Krehbiel because of his race, BrightKey itself discriminated on the basis of race in removing him.  In the same way that courts hold employers accountable if they fire a black or Hispanic employee because a racist customer objects to hiring minorities, federal law holds that an employer discriminates on the basis of race when it affirmatively agrees to a request to fire someone on that basis.

Employers in BrightKey’s jurisdiction are prohibited from retaliating against employees on the basis of political outlook or race, both of which were elements in the protest against Krehbiel’s continued employment and the employees’ request that he be fired. The case is currently pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.