Chief U.S. District Judge Frank Whitney upheld Friday last month’s $1.5 million judgment against the city of Charlotte, a further setback to the city..
A jury awarded former fire investigator Crystal Eschert $1.5 million because it found the Fire Department retaliated against her for complaining about the quality of renovations at a new office building renovated for Eschert and her colleagues. The city said that wasn’t true.
Charlotte said she was fired for what it said was an offensive Facebook post made after riots in Ferguson, Mo. in 2014.
The post said: “White guy shot by police yesterday near Ferguson … Where is Obama? Where is Holder? Where is Al Sharpton? Where are Trayvon Martin’s parents? Where are all the white guys supporters? So is everyone MAKING it a racial issue? So tired it’s a racial thing. If you are a thug and worthless to society, it’s not race – You’re just a waste no matter what religion, race or sex you are.”
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Eschert and her attorney, Meg Maloney, said the city created a fake internet persona to complain about the post to discredit Eschert.
The jury made its decision May 11. Whitney didn’t make a judgment on the case immediately, citing a number of technical issues with the trial.
The city argued the verdict would be overturned, and many people in the Government Center believed the jury had gotten the case wrong.
Whitney wrote that “the Court concludes.....that Plaintiff’s building complaints constituted protected speech under the First Amendment.”
Maloney said she wasn’t surprised.
“We expected this result by the judge, that he would honor the jury’s verdict,” she said.
The city said Friday it’s unclear whether Eschert will receive the full $1.5 million and that Whitney has not ruled on damages.
It also must now decide whether it will appeal to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. That will likely be an issue for Mayor Jennifer Roberts and the City Council to decide.