Fourteen months after Jessie Hubbard was fired for making a threatening Facebook posting about the governor, an arbitrator ruled that he should be reinstated as a guard at Lebanon Correctional Institution but without back pay.
Hubbard’s dismissal in January 2012 ignited a debate over free speech in the workplace and whether it extends to menacing comments on an employee’s Facebook page.
Hubbard wrote on May 3, 2011: “Ok we got Bin Laden…let’s get Kasich next… who is with me?” Seventeen people, including four other state prison workers, hit the “like” button, and some Facebook friends responded that they would join Hubbard if he brought cookies.
Hubbard said the remark was a joke, made during the height of the public debate over Kasich’s plan to gut collective bargaining rights for public employees.
Hubbard was put on paid administrative leave in September 2011 and then fired in January 2012. The remark ended up costing Hubbard about $60,000 in lost pay, he said.
Hubbard, 42, of Trenton, said he expects to return to his $43,000-a-year job later this spring. He said he still has his Facebook page but is much more cautious about what he posts.
“We live in a different world today. You just can’t voice your opinion, especially on social media sites where everybody can read it,” Hubbard said.
While the Kasich administration viewed the posting as a threat against the governor’s life, legal experts said it was political speech, akin to the anti-Kasich bumper stickers that people displayed during the collective bargaining debate.
Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols on Wednesday declined to answer questions on Hubbard’s reinstatement.
“We don’t talk about issues dealing with the safety and security of the governor and his family,” Nichols said.
Hubbard, who had been a prison guard for 14 years, has twice been named corrections officer of the month, received positive annual evaluations and was commended for saving the life of a suicidal inmate.
Shortly after Hubbard was put on leave, the state Department of Rehabilitation and Correction updated its policies to ban employees from making vulgar or threatening comments on social media about fellow workers or the department. That case and others led to the policy update, a department spokeswoman said.
Hubbard said he thinks there is a double standard when it comes to punishing public officials for ill-advised postings on social media. He noted that Ohio State Board of Education President Debe Tehrar was not reprimanded by Kasich in January when she re-published a picture that seemed to equate President Barack Obama’s gun control efforts with the views of Adolf Hitler.
Tehrar made a public apology.
Hubbard said he sent Kasich two apology letters but hasn’t received a response.
“I don’t know if he is mad at me or what,” he said.
Thank you for reading the Springfield News-Sun and for supporting local journalism. Subscribers: log in for access to your daily ePaper and premium newsletters.
Thank you for supporting in-depth local journalism with your subscription to the Springfield News-Sun. Get more news when you want it with email newsletters just for subscribers. Sign up here.