Friday, April 22, 2011

NJ Transit Worker Gets Job Back After Burning Koran During Protest

As I noted last November, I thought that Derek Fenton had a great chance of winning back his job because he was exercising his First Amendment rights for free speech to protest against the construction of the Cordoba House/Park 51 community center and mosque near Ground Zero. New Jersey Transit fired Fenton and the New Jersey chapter of the ACLU took up his cause. Gov. Chris Christie had supported the firing because of the intolerance that Fenton showed in his actions.

Today, a settlement between Fenton and NJ Transit means that Fenton will be reassigned to his $86,110-a-year job as a conductor and as an assistant train-consist coordinator. He will also get $25,000 for pain and suffering, as well as back pay equal to $331.20 for every day since his firing.

Note that Fenton was fired for actions carried out while he was off-duty and not in uniform. The outcome of the case would have been quite different had he been on duty when he burned the koran or had been wearing a NJ Transit uniform when burning the koran.

The First Amendment protects political speech no matter how distasteful and hateful. Fenton's speech was protected, and NJ Transit had overstepped its bounds and authority in firing Fenton for speech undertaken outside his employment.

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