- - Tuesday, February 22, 2022

It isn’t right, and it isn’t legal, but employees in the private sector can be fired for expressing their personal views on almost any topic, even if those opinions are voiced on their own time, outside the workplace. I was fired from my job for exactly this reason. In America, we should all have the right to our own opinion. Still, politically motivated groups and activist trolls can pressure employers to fire employees for positions they disagree with.

We’ve all seen this, and we’ve either censored our own speech to appease the mob, or we’ve lived in fear that it will happen to us. Unfortunately, many employers are unwilling and unprepared to stand up to the pressure tactics of activists. Unless this kind of bullying is checked, one side of the political debate will be silenced, and employees won’t be able to participate in normal political discussions — even outside of work.

My experience is just one of many examples. In December 2019, I was retained as a consultant by BrightKey Inc., a Maryland-based marketing fulfillment services company. I performed my job so well that the company decided to hire me as its full-time vice president of operations. Soon after I was hired, BrightKey gave me a $10,000 merit bonus for my high-quality work.

But just five months later, BrightKey abruptly fired me, caving to pressure from its employees. These employees weren’t upset with anything having to do with my conduct at the workplace, but because I had produced a podcast outside of working hours.

My friend and I review craft beer in the podcast and discuss interesting topics. Sometimes these conversations touch on controversial issues. Before starting at BrightKey, I told BrightKey’s President Rita Hope Counts about the podcast and asked whether the company would allow me to continue producing it. Ms. Counts assured me that I could do what I wanted outside of working hours. I was pleased she had the right view on this. After all, nearly everyone has worked with people holding different viewpoints. People go to work to do a job, not to conform to a single political viewpoint.

Everything changed when a troublemaking BrightKey employee discovered my podcast. He adamantly objected to two episodes in which my friend and I talked about diversity requirements and hate crime laws. I said I didn’t think the government should implement these policies and discussed why I objected to them.

Instead of talking to me about my views or simply moving on with his life, like a respectful, tolerant adult, he enlisted many BrightKey employees to call for my ouster. They argued that my positions — stated only through my podcast — demonstrated “white privilege” and that white people shouldn’t ever express those views. When a complaint to management didn’t achieve immediate success, the employee agitators escalated matters by conducting a protest march in BrightKey’s parking lot to pressure the company to fire me.

The company would have handled matters much differently in a just world, but unfortunately, BrightKey’s president swiftly acquiesced and fired me. It’s shameful that BrightKey went along with the mob. The company knew the true motivations of the agitators — they wanted me fired for nothing more than a political disagreement.

The Center for Individual Rights, a public interest law firm, has taken up my case and is suing BrightKey for its wrongful termination of my employment. Howard County, Maryland, is one of many jurisdictions around the country that protects employees from political opinion discrimination. The suit also alleges racial discrimination under Howard County, state and federal anti-discrimination law.  

I expressed legitimate public policy positions, but BrightKey employees construed my views as bigoted due to my race. The case, filed in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, will make clear that employers cannot retaliate against employees for their political views.

It’s time to stand up against this nonsense and protect the fundamental right that everyone can think, act and speak their opinions — regardless of their political affiliation, religious belief, race or ethnicity. No one should be fired for voicing an opinion outside of their workplace — or in this case — engaging in an intellectual discussion about what constitutes a hate crime. These are guarantees that all Americans hold dear, and we must fight to preserve them.

• Greg Krehbiel lives in Maryland, where he provides marketing and technology services to the publishing industry. 

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