After a weeklong trial, former fire investigator Crystal Eschert’s whistleblower lawsuit against the city of Charlotte went to a jury Wednesday evening.
Jurors must decide whether the Charlotte Fire Department overstepped when it fired Eschert in 2014 over a Facebook post the city said was offensive and inflammatory. The city has said that the firing was justified because it could have caused unrest in the community, and that Eschert wasn’t retaliated against for being a whistleblower.
On Aug. 20, 2014, about 10 days after the shooting of Michael Brown set off riots in Ferguson, Mo., Eschert wrote this post on her Facebook page, which was restricted to her Facebook friends:
“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.”
In its closing arguments Wednesday, Sara Lincoln, an attorney for the city, said Eschert’s job as an arson investigator means she should be held to a high standard. She said because fire investigators must sometimes testify in court, a Facebook post using words like “thug” could make it hard for her to do her job.
“What she wrote was a judgment on human life,” Lincoln said her closing statement.
Eschert’s attorney, Meg Maloney, has said the Facebook post was an excuse for the firing. She said the Fire Department retaliated against Eschert because she complained about the quality of renovations at a new office for arson investigators. Eschert had arranged a tour of the building for City Council member Claire Fallon, and Maloney said that upset Fire Department management.
Maloney cited a number of other social media posts made by firefighters that had racially charged material.
One was a meme that made fun of the names that some black women give to their children. Another showed a photo of Daquan Westbrook, who was shot and killed inside a Northlake Mall store by police in December. The posting showed his corpse lying on the floor, and said he was a “Black Lives Matter Thug.”
None of those employees were terminated.
Maloney said that if Eschert should be held to high standards, so should firefighters.
“Firefighters come into people’s homes,” she said.
Lincoln said one reason that the posts were different is that Eschert made hers soon after the riots in Ferguson, at a time when Charlotte was worried about similar unrest.
She also said that the person who emailed the posts to city officials and the media wasn’t complaining about the content and didn’t seem offended. That differed from the person who emailed the city about Eschert’s Facebook post. That person, Linda Havery, said the post could cause racial unrest.
“Ferguson wasn’t on fire,” Lincoln said about the other posts.
Maloney contends that Linda Havery is a made-up person, created by someone associated with the Fire Department to retaliate against Eschert. Lincoln said Maloney offered no proof that anyone associated with the city is Linda Havery. She also said the email was sent from a non-city computer.
Lincoln also said that Eschert’s claims there were safety problems at the renovated building on North Graham Street were wrong. She portrayed Eschert was a disgruntled employee who wanted a nicer office – not a legitimate whistleblower.
Jurors were scheduled to deliberate until 7 p.m. Wednesday and then meet again Thursday morning. Eschert is seeking at least $1.5 million in damages.