A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit by a former 911 call center administrator who was fired for badmouthing former Deputy Mayor Andy Kopplin.
U.S. District Court Judge Ivan Lemelle rejected Frith Malin’s free speech claim Monday, ruling that she made her comment as an Orleans Parish Communication District employee, not a private citizen.
Last year, Malin’s boss emailed employees at the 911 call center to notify them that Kopplin planned to leave the city to become president of the Greater New Orleans Foundation, which manages a portfolio of charitable funds.
Malin, the deputy director, responded, “I’m sure he’ll do just as good a job bleeding all these funds dry, just as he has done with the City. I’m willing to bet he starts charging a higher admin/maintenance fee to the entities that have funds there.”
But instead of sending it to her boss, she sent it to everyone who had gotten his message.
Malin was suspended within days, pending an investigation by Human Resources Manager Jeanne Hobson. She lost her job after Hobson concluded that the email, as well as others from Malin, violated the Communication District’s employee conduct policy.
In her suit, Malin contended that her comments were protected by the First Amendment because she was speaking as a “private citizen regarding a matter of public concern.”
The judge, however, ruled that because she was using her work email to communicate with other employees, she was acting in the course of her job. And because Kopplin was then a member of the Communication District’s board, it was not a matter of public concern, but rather an employee-employer dispute.
Malin also alleged that Hobson’s recommendation to fire her was retaliation for Malin’s complaints about her work behavior. In the lawsuit, Malin accused Hobson of frequently discussing her sex life at work, which Malin alleged created a hostile work environment.
Lemelle ruled against that and a related whistleblower claim, finding that Hobson’s alleged behavior did not constitute sex discrimination or sexual harassment, and it was therefore not illegal.
“The discussions of Ms. Hobson’s romantic life may have made Plaintiff uncomfortable but does not give rise to a reasonable person feeling that they are in a sexually hostile work environment,” Lemelle wrote.
In response to a request for comment, Hobson provided The Lens a written statement about Malin.
“She is a liar who only wanted to ruin me because she thought she could. Ms. Malin befriended me by gifting me with several items prior to her firing in order to make me believe we were friends.
“However, all the while she had people spying on me and reporting back to her all of my activities and what was said and was also emailing people both inside and outside of the agency with lies about me and denigrating my professional reputation.”
In a phone interview, Malin said she plans to appeal the ruling. She declined to comment further.
Communication District Board Chair Terry Ebbert declined comment for this story.