S.C. state worker says free speech rights were violated

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COLUMBIA — A former South Carolina state employee has filed a federal lawsuit over his termination earlier this year after a diversity training session, an action he says amounts to trampling his free speech rights.

The State newspaper reports that Mark Kelly, a 13-year veteran with the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, says he was fired after speaking up about faith and patriotism during diversity training in May.

“Mark Kelly is a man of faith and a man who has selflessly served his country for decades,” said Kelly’s lawyer, Benjamin Mabry. “Sadly, he and his formerly impeccable career have been destroyed.”

Kelly’s lawsuit alleges that at a May 3 diversity training session for department employees, the instructor said that when dealing with people from different cultures, “you should consider yourselves Americans second.” The complaint also says employees were told “you need to put your faith in the back seat” when communicating with people from different backgrounds.

Kelly’s former department licenses builders, doctors and other professionals, inspects elevators and amusement rides and audits employment records of small businesses required to ask new employees for proof of legal residency. Kelly was an investigator.

Kelly, a veteran of the U.S. Army National Guard with multiple overseas deployments, says he disagreed with the instructor on several points, asking “At what point are we allowed to acknowledge our own faith or country?”

On May 16, he was fired, according to a termination notice included with the complaint. The document says Kelly’s exchanges with the instructor during the training session called into question whether he can effectively work with people from different backgrounds.

“While the instructor welcomed exchange and dialogue among class participants, your comments made the majority of those attending the workshop uncomfortable,” the termination notice reads. “At times, your behavior was so boisterous it was disruptive to the learning environment.”

Catherine Templeton, the agency’s director, said she can’t discuss the specifics of Kelly’s termination. But she says the agency is committed to upholding laws that prohibit workplace discrimination and harassment.

Kelly’s lawsuit seeks reinstatement, back pay and up to $10 million in damages.

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proudgunowner 12/24/11 - 08:23 pm
I don't understand the

I don't understand the putting yourself as an American second part, but I do understand about the personal faith. In a position such as he had, it could be construed that he showed favoritism to people who might have shared his faith and been vindictive toward those of a different cultural background. As a government employee, his first obligation is to enforce the laws and codes of the government agency he works for...nothing else. If he wants to share his faith on his own time, then God bless him for that.

Asitisinaug 12/25/11 - 12:30 am
Although I am no fan of law

Although I am no fan of law suits, on certainly should have been filed in this case.

This type of "diversity training" takes "political correctness" to a new level and is absurd. Of course we should respect others, other countries, various religions, etc. but we are Americans and this is America and WE should be protecting and standing up for our country first. Even terms such as African American are ridiculous and many black Americans object to such ridiculous terms.

This mans free speach was violated, he said what the Majority thinks and the thought control police wanted him to shut up. Stop waisting tax money on idiotic classes and training such as this and trampling on the rights of true Americans.

Georgialina 12/25/11 - 12:31 am
I hope Kelly gets every dime

I hope Kelly gets every dime of his $10 million lawsuit. As a proud American I will NEVER consider myself an American second to anyone. Our Constitution grants us freedom of speech but lately it seems the PC pantywastes try to make it freedom FROM speech.

Techfan 12/25/11 - 06:23 am
Isn't South Carolina one of

Isn't South Carolina one of those "right to work" states the right wing loves so much? That also translates into a "right to fire". Also, when the heck do you have free speech rights to say and do anything you want at work? Tough luck buddy.

JRC2024 12/25/11 - 10:40 am
South Carolina is a right to

South Carolina is a right to work state just like Georgia so that unions cannot trample over blue collar workers and force them to join. Mr. Kelly does have free speech rights and should always consider himself an American first but he does not have the right to constantly interrupt any class. He should have the right to interject his opinions at the question and answer part of the class. When dealing with people of different cultures their culture or religion should never never overide the constitutional laws of the USA. In my opinion when you take an pledge of citizenship you become an American and agree to abide by US law and not the law from where you came.

draksig 12/25/11 - 12:29 pm
Let em get this right, an

Let em get this right, an employee of the state is required to consider himself an American second? What was he supposed to consider himself first? Nothing in his question would imply he could not work with others of different backgrounds. a clean 13 year work history plus a military record means nothing in the face of an accusation from an instructor?

Cadence 12/25/11 - 04:48 pm
I think the firing may be due

I think the firing may be due to obnoxious behavior in and possibly out of class. It sounds like he was one of those students who disrupt a class and make it hard for the other attendees to just get through it. These mandatory trainings are just a few hours, no one wants to take them, but you can't get out of them. Just sit there and make a grocery list, draw puppies, whatever. Then go back to work. The more you interrupt the longer the rest of us have to sit there. They may have handled his firing badly, though.

Riverman1 12/25/11 - 05:36 pm
This ought to be easy enough

This ought to be easy enough to decide one way or another. Call the others who were in the class and see if they think he was being unduly disruptive.

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