Left: Greg Krehbiel, Right: Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals

Workplace Free Speech Suit Before the Fourth Circuit

The Center for Individual Rights has filed its opening brief to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Krehbiel v. BrightKey.  BrightKey fired Greg Krehbiel in response to a protest led by a group of employees who objected to opinions that Krehbiel expressed in his off-work podcast.  The protesters alleged that Krehbiel advocated “white privilege” by questioning the propriety of diversity goals and hate crime laws.  On March 4, District Court Judge Richard D. Bennett dismissed the suit.

CIR’s appeal argues that Judge Bennett ignored the key argument of the legal claim.  Judge Bennett analyzed the case under a “cat’s paw” theory. Under this theory, courts can hold an employer liable for firing an employee at the instigation of a subordinate who has an illicit racial motive, even though the employer does not know about the subordinate’s motive.  But this theory is only applicable when the subordinate has authority over employment decisions, which the BrightKey protesters did not. 

CIR’s claim was not based on a cat’s paw theory.  Instead, CIR argued that BrightKey was fully aware of the unlawful racial motives of the protesters.  Because BrightKey knew that the protesters had illicit racial motives, it adopted those motives when it fired Krehbiel in response.     

This case provides an opportunity to challenge a particularly pernicious use of existing law to shield employers from the illegal, race-based motives of workplace activists.  Victory here will strengthen  the ability to challenge woke racial activism operating in workplaces across the country.

BrightKey’s response is due on August 15.