College football coach’s firing over Stacey Abrams tweet violated his First Amendment rights, lawsuit says
A former college football offensive line coach filed a lawsuit earlier this week in the hope of getting his job back after he was canned for a derogatory tweet about Georgia politician Stacey Abrams.
Chris Malone, who was on the Chattanooga Mocs’ coaching staff before he sent the tweet in January, contended his First Amendment rights were violated when he was fired on Jan. 7. Malone filed the lawsuit in the Eastern District of U.S. District Court. Malone is suing Chancellor Steven Angle, athletic director Mark Wharton and coach Rusty Wright and in their roles with the school.
“In most states, employers are allowed to be controlling and vindictive when it comes to social media,” Doug Churdar, Malone’s attorney, said in a press release obtained by Fox News. “It’s different for government or public employers. They cannot ignore the First Amendment.”
The school did not comment due to pending litigation.
The tweet came in the midst of the Georgia Senate runoff elections.
“Congratulations to the state GA and Fat Albert @staceyabrams because you have truly shown America the true works of cheating in an election, again!!!” Malone wrote. “Enjoy the buffet Big Girl! You earned it!!! Hope the money was good, still not governor!”
Malone deleted the tweet after former players responded negatively. He said in the lawsuit he heard nothing about the tweet until Jan. 6, when Wright allegedly told him the matter had gone “over his head.” Malone was then called on to resign the next day.
The school later announced that Malone had been fired.
Wright and Wharton rebuked the tweets.
“Our football program has a clear set of standards,” Wright said in a statement. “Those standards include respecting others. It is a message our players hear daily. It is a standard I will not waiver on. What was posted on social media by a member of my staff is unacceptable and not any part of what I stand for or what Chattanooga Football stands for. Life is bigger than football and as leaders of young men we have to set that example, first and foremost. With that said, effectively immediately, that individual is no longer a part of my staff.”
Wharton added: “The sentiments in that post do not represent the values of our football program, our athletics department or our university.”
Malone said he was unfairly treated by the media.
“Calling politicians liars and cheaters is a proud American tradition. Nobody’s got a problem with it until [it’s] ‘their’ politician,” Malone said in the complaint. “And fat jokes might be unkind, but they aren’t uncommon. Just ask Chris Christie and Donald Trump.”
Malone had spent two seasons at Tennessee-Chattanooga. He was also a coach at Old Dominion and Virginia State.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.