We’ve had plenty to say in recent years about the stubbornness of N.C. Republicans, whose refusal to retreat from bad decisions has cost the state both money and embarrassment. But mulishness is far from a single-party trait, as Charlotte officials and City Council members have demonstrated with their bungling and re-bungling of the Crystal Eschert case.
Now that obstinacy might have a price tag: $1.5 million, which is what a jury awarded Eschert, a former Charlotte fire investigator, after determining that the city wrongly fired her for an offensive Facebook post.
That $1.5 million doesn’t count the resources the city has dedicated to defending the 2014 firing, nor the money spent on a Greensboro law firm to investigate the firing. As of Friday, city officials hadn’t said whether Charlotte will spend even more to appeal the jury’s verdict to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.
It shouldn’t. In fact, the city long ago should have reversed itself on Eschert’s firing.
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Make no mistake, Eschert should have been punished for her Facebook post. In it she questioned whether the White House or civil rights advocates would have spoken up if the victim in the 2014 Ferguson, Mo., police shooting were white. Wrote Eschert: “If you’re a thug and worthless to society, it’s not race – You’re just a waste no matter what religion, race or sex you are!”
Those aren’t the kind of comments city employees should be making, and then-city manager Ron Carlee was right to worry about how black communities in Charlotte would perceive such remarks coming from a department that serves them. But as we wrote then, the post merited a suspension and some sensitivity training, not termination.
Indeed, the city later seemed to find some sensibility regarding social media. Last year, the Observer’s Steve Harrison reported that at least six other city employees were given warnings after accusations of distasteful posts. Yet the city appeared to be inexplicably inflexible about Eschert, who believes her firing was retaliation for complaints she made about the quality of renovations at a Fire Department building off Graham Street.
Jurors sided with her last week, rejecting the city’s arguments that her firing was not retaliation but was necessary because of the inflammatory nature of the Facebook posts. Now the case is back in the hands of City Council members, who along with Mayor Jennifer Roberts will determine if the city wants to keep fighting.
We suppose we understand the temptation. It’s never easy to admit you’re wrong, whether you’re a public official or not. But for most of us, stubbornness doesn’t come at such a cost. It’s time to end this unnecessary ordeal, now.