Racist Facebook Comment Leads to Wrongful Termination Suit at Oklahoma Hospital
Kevin Murnan worked as an RN at Norman Regional Hospital in Oklahoma for 19 years, until he published a comment on Facebook calling for the death of a black murder suspect. Now, Murnan is suing the hospital for $1.2 million over what he sees as wrongful termination. He believes he’s standing up for his right to free speech, but the hospital sees it as a call for racial violence.
Calling for Racially Motivated Violence
It all started last August when a news organization known as The Daily Wire published a story on Facebook with the headline, “Black Man Arrested For Allegedly Executing Five-Year-Old Boy In Front of Sisters,” regarding a shooting in North Carolina that took place on August 9th.
The story centered on Cannon Hinnant, a young Caucasian boy that was riding his bike outside his father’s house when he was shot. Soon after the incident, a neighbor, Darius Sessoms, a 26-year-old black man, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder.
The Daily Wire calls itself “one of America’s fastest-growing conservative media companies.” The story quickly picked up steam online after commenters suggested that the story would’ve received national attention if the victim were black and the suspect were white.
Kevin Murnan was one of the many people that commented on the article, writing, “Get a big tall tree and a short piece of rope!”
Free Speech or Wrongful Termination?
Attorneys for the hospital are asking the Cleveland County District Court to dismiss the lawsuit, saying the facility was well within its rights to fire Murnan for his comment.
The attorneys said the hospital did the right thing after Murnan chose to “pen his hateful thoughts and send them out into the general public believing there could be no consequence for doing so.”
The story of Hinnant’s murder came at the height of last summer when millions of Americans were still protesting the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The video of Mr. Floyd dying on the street while being pinned down by a white officer led to an uproar over police brutality and racial injustice.
The attorneys added, “Set against the backdrop of the death of George Floyd and the nation’s racial tensions boiling over in the summer of 2020, it is clear why the plaintiff’s employment could not continue after that post drew scathing criticism from a member of the community who brought it to the attention of the Defendant.”
They also argue Murnan’s comment was full of racially motivated language: “Murnan’s post was short and to the point, resorting to a tried and true symbol of racism in America — the lynching of African Americans.”
However, Murnan’s attorney, Jack Tracy, argued last week that the comment wasn’t racially motivated.
“Kevin says, ‘I am not racist. I’m not racist. You know, some of my best friends are black,'” Tracy told a local newspaper. “I think they did him wrong. They’ve got some very fine doctors there [Norman Regional Hospital]. And I think very highly of them. But this is a matter of principle.”
Tracy argued that the hospital had no right to fire Murnan and that the move violates Murnan’s right to free speech. “You just don’t go around and fire people for things on Facebook. He didn’t call him a ‘n.,’” referring to the n-word.
“Plaintiff was on his own time, in his own corner of the world,” the lawsuit states. “The comment…was made outside of his employment or his duties.”
Attorneys for the hospital pushed back, saying that anyone in the community could’ve identified Murnan from his comment on Facebook and saw that he was an employee of the Norman Regional Hospital System, thus damaging the company’s reputation.
The facility also claims it gave Murnan several reasons for his termination, including that such comments “can erode the public’s confidence” in the ability of employees to impartially exercise their duties without regard to race.
Finally, Tracy told the judge, “Unfortunately, there seems to be a trend to find an offended person behind every tree and to hold harmless those persons burning cities to the ground on the premise of offended feelings.” Murnan’s lawsuit is also asking the judge to block the hospital from firing employees who express ideas “inconsistent with their liberal agenda.” Murnan added that he believes he was targeted for being a Republican.
A hearing on the motion to dismiss the suit is scheduled for May 6th.