Racial Facebook Post Not Constitutionally Protected

Adam Meadors was a police officer for the Meridian, Mississippi Police Department. Meadors posted to his public Facebook page a photo depicting two chimpanzees laughing with the following caption: “Earlier today, the mayor and the chief of police had a meeting.” He commented on the photo, saying: “Something will probably be said, but I couldn’t resist.” After a few minutes, however, he removed the photo. Meadors was on duty at the time he posted the photo, even though he was at home on a meal break.

Meadors’s Facebook post was brought to the City’s attention, and the Department conducted an internal affairs investigation to determine whether the picture violated the City’s regulations. Meadors provided a statement acknowledging he “knew that posting the picture might offend some people,” but he explained that it was “meant to be a joke and not meant to be taken seriously by anyone.” When later questioned by the investigator whether he was “thinking of” Meridian’s Mayor Percy Bland and Chief of Police James Lee, both African American, when he posted the photo, Meadors answered: “Yeah, that’s true, but I have friends on Facebook at other agencies that might assume I was talking about other mayors and chiefs where they work.” He also admitted that he knew his friends in Meridian would assume he was referring to Mayor Bland and Chief Lee.

When Meadors was fired, he appealed to the Mississippi Court of Appeals, arguing that his Facebook post amounted to free speech. The Court disagreed, and upheld the termination.

The Court observed that “there was no evidence that Meadors’s posting of the photo addressed a public concern. In fact, Meadors testified that the reason he posted the photo was because he thought it was funny. Furthermore, although he denied the photo was racist, he admitted that he knew it would ruffle some feathers. As the Police Commission observed, the photo, at the very least, ‘ridiculed the Mayor and Chief of Police’s humanity and, at worst, it was an expression of racial prejudice.’

“While Meadors disclaims racial intent, to suggest that a human being’s physical appearance is essentially a caricature of a jungle beast goes far beyond the mere unflattering: it is degrading and humiliating in the extreme. The use of the term ‘monkey’ and other similar words have been part of actionable racial harassment claims across the country. No matter his intent, Meadors’s posting was inherently racially insensitive and/or demonstrated insubordination toward his superiors.

“We agree with the Commission’s finding that Meadors’s termination over his Facebook post did not constitute a violation of his right to free speech. Meadors was not speaking on a matter of public concern, and his Facebook post could well have been viewed by the public as racist and by his superiors as offensive or antagonistic.”

City of Meridan v. Meadors, 2016 WL 7636445 (Miss. App. 2016).