After winning re-election for Sheriff of Hampton, Virginia in November of 2009, Sheriff B.J. Roberts decided not to retain a dozen employees of the Sheriff’s Office because, as to three of them, he wished to replace civilian employees with sworn deputies and, as for the other nine, he wished to replace them due unsatisfactory work performance and his belief that their actions “hindered the harmony and efficiency of the Office.” Six of the former employees filed suit alleging that the termination was actually in retaliation for their political support for the Sheriff’s rival, Jim Adams, during the election campaign. Plaintiffs alleged that the termination was wrongful because it was based on their free speech expressions which were subject to protection under the First Amendment. For example, one of the Plaintiffs, Daniel Ray Carter, Jr., alleged that he was terminated after Sheriff Roberts discovered that he “liked” Adams’ Facebook page.
On April 24, 2012, U.S. District Court Judge Raymond A. Jackson granted summary judgment in favor of Roberts against all Plaintiffs. [Court’s Opinion] As to Carter’s claim, the Court decided in Roberts’ favor because it found that even if Roberts knew that Carter “liked” Adams’ Facebook page, Carter was required to show that “liking” a Facebook page is constitutionally protected speech. Judge Jackson ruled that “merely ‘liking’ a Facebook page is insufficient speech to merit constitutional protection.”
A number of critics believe that “liking” a Facebook page is constitutionally protected speech subject to First Amendment protection and that the decision will be appealed. [See http://volokh.com/2012/04/29/is-a-facebook-like-not-substantive-enough-to-warrant-constitutional-protection/]