Back in my previous blogging life, I wrote about a case by the 11th Circuit, Mitchell v. Hillsborough County, No. 05-12207 (11th Cir., Oct. 31, 2006), which involved a county employee who made satirical remarks about one of the country commissioners, and got fired for it. In “Swift Would Be Ashamed” from 2006, I wrote about the facts of that case:
Plaintiff Gary Mitchell had a job filming the meetings of his local Board of Commissioners and he also volunteered at the local public access television station. Due to a brouhaha over indecent programming, the Board of Commissioners had proposed to cut public access funding. Commissioner Rhonda Storms was leading the morality crusade, so Mitchell decided to have some fun at her expense. During the open comment period of a supervisors’ meeting, Mitchell took to the podium wearing a beret with a thunderbolt on top and announced that he was a member of a fictitious political support group called the Thunderheads. He then gave a speech praising Storms and concluded with a question: given her preoccupation with women’s body parts, did she prefer the nickname “Vagi” or “Gina”?
I perhaps can understand the efficiency argument in this case (though it is certainly not a slam dunk), but I don’t agree at all that this is not speech on a matter of public concern. As Robert [Loblaw] points out, that would be like saying Jonathan Swift’s Modest Proposal was really about cannibalism.
The 11th Circuit found that Mitchell’s speech was not a matter of public concern, and even if it was, the efficiency concerns of the employer in ensuring co-worker harmony outweighed any First Amendment rights Mitchell would have had.
Well, the humor of the federal courts has not improved in three years. Not even in my hometown.