Following settlement of a First Amendment lawsuit, the New Jersey Transit employee who was fired for burning pages of the Quran while off duty will get his job back.
The case has raised questions about workers’ rights.
Frank Askin, director of the Constitutional Litigation Clinic at Rutgers School of Law, said public-sector employees have free speech protections if they’re off the job and don’t defame their agency. But there may be a different standard for workers in the private sector.
“Private employees, it would depend whether they have a real contract or union collective bargaining agreement, then they may be protected. Otherwise private employees may not have any protection if they’re ‘at will’ employees,” he said.
Askin said that means private sector employees should be careful about deciding what they post on the Internet. There could be consequences if their employer becomes aware of those comments, he said.
Deborah Jacobs, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, said settlement of the suit may have a long-term impact.
“I can only hope that it will be a reminder to our leaders in government that they can not suppress free speech or suppress people’s expression just because they don’t agree with the underlying message,” she said.