Should employees who work for public companies be allowed to speak freely when they aren't on the job? During a Fox 7 investigation into bus driver assaults, Fox 7 reporter Elizabeth Saab interviewed a Capital Metro bus driver, but concealed his identity. He says despite that, he was reprimanded the next day. And now the ATU Local 1091, the union that represents him, has filed a federal lawsuit saying his First Amendment Rights were violated.
"People deserve to know if there are physical assaults happening on the bus system and there's no good reason to stop that information from getting out," says Sean Morales-Doyle. He represents the ATU and filed the lawsuit. And he adds that because Capital Metro is a government agency, they don't have the right to dictate whether or not their employees voice their concerns to the media, off-duty, as private citizens.
The lawsuit also names Cap Metro Contractor Travis Transit/McDonald Transit, as they are the driver's employer. Although they are a private company, Morales-Doyle says they are contracted by Cap Metro, and acting on behalf of a public agency and therefore, are just as liable.
Fox 7 did not name the driver. According to the the lawsuit though, the day after our story aired, Capital Metro contacted Travis Transit. The driver's boss called him in and said he recognized his voice and details about the assault. The driver says he did not admit to speaking to Fox 7. His says his boss reprimanded him, then gave him Cap Metro's media relations policy.
Fox 7 was given internal emails between Capital Metro and Travis Transit. They verify the above account.
The emails also included an exchange referring to an email Fox 7 sent to Travis Transit's management. We contacted them to verify that a conversation took place with one of their operators. We did not name the operator. The Travis Transit official did not reply. According to those internal emails, he didn't plan to, telling Cap Metro employees, "I do not intend to reponse to her email, just wanted you to know the facts."
A Cap Metro employee responded, thanking him, and said "I agree you should not respond to the reporter." Another Cap Metro employee also responded saying, "Agreed. No need to reply." and then she added that their communications specialist was "aware of this, and she'll let me know if the reporter contacts her."
"He wasn't expected to be treated that way, wasn't expected to see that they weren't supporting him. That rubbed him wrong, it really hurt, says ATU Local 1091's President Jay Wyatt. Wyatt also says he had never didn't know a media relations policy existed. "It hadn't been an issue in the past over the 30 years that I worked at Capital Metro. Not once have i seen or heard anything about this."
Sean Morales-Doyle adds, "t's illegal for the government to stop people speaking freely with the press without a good reason, and there is no reason here." And he says he thinks a judge will agree with him.