Last year, we explained how the First Amendment affects bloggers. The laws and decisions that go into protecting bloggers may also affect rights regarding the first amendment and social media postings.
You may have encountered virulent arguments on social media about topics that should not have provoked that type of reaction. At some point, you or someone else may be accused of and reported for promoting “hate speech.” Maybe you just stated an opinion, and someone shot back an inflammatory comment. Does First Amendment cover you?
Defining hate speech
“Hate speech” isn’t a legal term, but is one used to describe speech that’s intended to attack or demean another individual or group. This type of speech is usually based on characteristics that are illegal to use for discrimination, such as race, sex, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, or age.
Hate speech has also come to mean any type of comment that another individual does not agree with, even if it’s not specifically insulting or demeaning.
Simply hurling insults at someone is offensive, but not against the law. But hate crimes, targeting someone because of the above characteristics, are a matter of criminal law, not civil.
What is social media?
Websites, apps and other forms of electronic communication allow people to communicate and share content in real time. Most people are familiar with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, and similar websites, as well as professional networking site Linkedin. Depending on the platform, you can disseminate any type of information to your friends, private groups or the user community at large.
When a post, picture, or other piece of content “goes viral,” it’s shared widely and occasionally appears in broadcast media. This can be anything from a cute cat video to a vicious diatribe targeting a group of individuals, and anything in between. With a combined social media user community in the billions, one share can put your post in front of the entire world in the blink of an eye.
While many social media users share pictures of whatever they’re doing, eating, drinking, or watching, hate groups use the same medium to disseminate their own messages. This is where the First Amendment and social media come into play.
The difference between the First Amendment and social media
Hate groups from all over the world have routinely used social media to spread their message, recruiting and bringing more people into their fold. The recent attack on a German synagogue was live-streamed on Twitch by the shooter wearing a helmet camera. But it wasn’t the first time social media has been used to broadcast such an event.
For instance: standing in the public square and shouting insults will upset people of that you’re targeting, but the comments are constitutionally protected. However, threats of and encouraging violence, the so-called “fighting words,” are not constitutionally protected, and may also get you arrested.
Making the same comments on social media may be First Amendment protected, but may violate the platform’s “community standards.” This means that although your comments are constitutionally protected, the platform itself does not have to allow you to say it on their “premises.”
It’s akin to saying something insulting to someone in their own home. You can say it on the sidewalk, but they don’t have to allow you in to say it in the privacy of their living room. By the same token, social media companies have the right to tell you that you can’t say that on their privately owned platform. Users are allowed to “flag” comments that they believe to be hate speech, but flags are also used in retaliation for benign comments that someone simply disagreed with. This makes it more difficult to find true hate speech and combat it.
While social media companies have broad powers to restrict hate speech in their platforms, their capacity is lacking to catch and control everything that violates their community standards.
It happens sometimes that people are arrested for reasons they don’t understand. You’ve done nothing wrong, but there you are, sitting in the back of a police car (not resisting arrest), and you’re not sure why. It happens more often than you think, and the ACLU has stepped in to assist hundreds of people like Valerie Rodriguez, a lady unlucky enough to have the same name as someone else who committed a crime. A police officer who failed to do the proper research facilitated the arrest of an innocent woman instead of one that caused harm.
Police officers may be quick to make an arrest if they believe you aren’t complying with their request. Unfortunately, even catchall charges like disorderly conduct and resisting arrest are up to the officer’s discretion. Even not acting fast enough when the officer tells you something can be “resisting arrest,” giving an officer free reign. If you’re innocent of the disorderly conduct but tried to resist arrest, that second charge may stick when you go to court. An officer’s report may be written to indicate that you have broken the law, when in fact, they may be covering up their own mistakes.
Interfering with a police officer’s duties and preventing him from making an arrest constitutes resisting arrest. This is true whether the individual is innocent of any charges or not.
If you do resist being arrested in Denver, CO, and you are innocent of the original charge, you’ll still be charged with resisting arrest under 18-8-103 (1) C.R.S, which is a Class 2 misdemeanor. You could face fines of up to $1,000 and as much as a year in jail.
Defenses against resisting arrest
There are defenses against this charge:
Self-defense, in which the individual intends to protect himself or herself against an assault by a police officer
In defense of another individual
The police officer is acting as a private person and not in his or her official capacity as a law enforcement officer
The police officer uses excessive force when it isn’t warranted
However, unlawful or false arrest are not defenses; you’ll need to fight this kind of charge in court.
If you are arrested for resisting arrest in Denver, CO
The safest way to proceed is to go along with the officer, do not resist, and give them no additional information beyond your name. State that you would like to answer any other questions in the presence of an attorney. Anything you say to the police, even before they read your Miranda Rights to you, can be used against you in court. Therefore, make no statements to anyone involved, including the police, without the presence of an attorney at your side.
Once you’ve been freed from jail, find an attorney who will not only defend you from the charge of resisting arrest, but demonstrate that you were, in fact, innocent of the original charge for which you were being arrested.
Defend your rights with a Colorado civil rights attorney
Most charges of resisting arrest are defensible. If a prosecutor offers you a plea bargain, you’ll still have a criminal conviction on your record. To avoid conviction, it’s best to take your case into a jury trial. That’s where a civil rights attorney can help.
If you or someone you know has been charged with resisting arrest and is innocent of charges, get the legal help you need immediately. Call the Civil Rights Litigation Group at (720) 515-6165, or use our online contact form, to schedule your free consultation with us today. We’ll fight to help you clear your name against false arrests and other over-reaching actions by police.
Filing a lawsuit for any kind of discrimination is a difficult decision that isn’t taken lightly. Age discrimination is particularly difficult, and can have long-term ramifications. Age discrimination is personal. You’ve worked hard for a long time and have a lot of years of good experience. But suddenly, after your 40th (or 50th) birthday, you wake up and realize you’re not working there anymore. You may have a very difficult time finding a new job, especially after 50. What happened?
With more employees shunning retirement and working longer, age discrimination is becoming more common in companies both large and small. The EEOC reports that age discrimination complaints are increasing. From 1997 through 2007, there were less than 20,000 filings per year.
In 2008, however, the number of filings increased from 23,000 to 25,000 per year. That’s just the people who filed a complaint — without a report, there are likely more cases of age discrimination that no one knows about. In Colorado alone, there were 370 age discrimination complaints filed in 2018. By comparison, California recorded 1,062, and Texas recorded 1,744.
So why do older people find themselves unemployed after a long, successful career? There are a number of misconceptions about “older workers,” including:
They can’t deal with technology (i.e., computers, smartphones, conference calls, etc.)
Their health insurance costs more, because after 50 they have more health problems
They don’t need a job because they’re so close to retirement
They cost more in wages and salaries, so it’s fiscally prudent to lay them off and hire younger, less expensive workers.
However, older workers tend to be more reliable than younger workers, but are generally targeted first in a reduction in force.
While employers are quite sneaky about hiding their age-discrimination tendencies, there are occasions where they make missteps, such as asking about your retirement, or making disparaging comments to younger employees about a worker over 40. That’s when you may decide to file a complaint with the EEOC, and follow with an age discrimination lawsuit.
Collecting evidence for age discrimination
If you’re finding yourself the target of such comments or treatment, document everything. For instance, if your boss asks you about your retirement plans, or makes other disparaging remarks, keep a record of the time, date, and any witnesses who heard it. Follow up with an email to him or her thanking him for his concern, and that you currently have no plans to retire, that you enjoy your work. Print and file copies of these types of emails and other documents.
If you were told about such comments by another employee that were not made in your presence, document that as well, including the individual who told you.
Gather copies of all of your performance reviews, especially reviews that demonstrate your good work record and performance. If your reviews have abruptly changed after years of doing well, your previous good reviews will be a strong contrast.
Watch how younger employees are treated in relation to older employees, whether it’s work-related, promotion related, firing or layoff related, or how they are treated in the same circumstances as someone over 40. If you find a pattern of age-related bias, begin keeping records of these individuals and how they were treated differently than those under 35 or 40. This is especially true in disciplinary cases.
Favoritism towards younger employees, such as work assignments, sales leads, meetings, promotions and other patterns may also indicate discrimination. This should also be documented, even if the supervisor is “over a certain age.”
After a period of good performance reviews, if you suddenly find yourself with negative reviews, write-ups or other disciplinary actions, there’s a good chance you are being targeted. The goal is to either find a way to fire you or to get you to quit. Again, documentation is key to proving your case in an age discrimination lawsuit.
Whether you are in a hearing with the Colorado Civil Rights Division (CCRD) or EEOC, or a court hearing, you’ll be asked questions by a well-equipped defense counsel. While you are there to prove disparate treatment and disparate impact, they are ready to disprove your claims of age discrimination.
You’ll be required to prove that you are in a protected class (over 40) and are qualified to do your job, but that you suffered an adverse action in your employment and were treated differently than employees who were under 40. Expect pointed questions from both your own attorney, and by your employer’s attorney. You’ll be asked about your training, qualifications, and other relevant questions that are intended to disprove your claim.
Your employer will then be required to prove that the action was not discriminatory, and the action had a legitimate reason, and was for a reason other than age. While a requirement to lift 50+ pounds occasionally might be reasonable for some jobs, they could be used to discriminate against individuals where such a requirement wouldn’t be necessary.
Should this be proven, at this point, the burden of proof is yours to show that the action was a pretext and in fact, discriminatory. Working with an age discrimination attorney will help you prove your case successfully to increase your chance of winning your case and having a settlement.
Your Denver civil rights attorney
Being fired or laid off because of your age, even when hidden by another reason, is age discrimination and against the law. Get help with your case before you file a complaint. Call the Civil Rights Litigation Group at (720) 515-6165, or use our online contact form, to schedule your free consultation with us today. We’ll aggressively defend you in court and make sure your rights are protected and you are treated fairly.
It’s difficult to go to a job every day and witness inappropriate or even illegal conduct, knowing it’s wrong. Every day, thousands of people in Colorado are afraid to say anything for fear of losing their jobs, or worse. Afraid of being labeled a whistleblower.
But if your employer does turn on you as a whistleblower in you do have protections against retaliation, including the ability to file a lawsuit if necessary.
Colorado’s at-will employment
Giving two weeks’ notice when terminating your employment is a custom, or company policy, but isn’t required by law.
With nearly any employer in the state, your employment is called at-will, meaning both you and your employer can terminate it at any time, without a reason. However, terminating employment for cause has to be for a legal reason, such as poor performance or violating company policies.
Protection for a whistleblower
The state of Colorado offers whistleblower protection for both public and private employees against retaliation after exposing illegal actions or policies.
Colorado code §24-114- 101: Private employees
An employer may not administer disciplinary action for disclosures of information
An employee must make an effort to provide the information directly to a supervisor or other internal authority before disclosing the information to an outside source
An employee can bring a civil lawsuit and seek damages and other relief
Colorado code § 24-50.5- 101 to 107: Public employees
Employees of the state of Colorado are protected from disciplinary actions by an employer for disclosing information with regard to illegal policies or actions that are not in the public interest
An employee must file a written complaint within 10 days of the retaliatory incident(s) with a state personnel board
If approved, the employee may recover back pay, obtain reinstatement and other related compensation
Should the board deny the complaint, an employee may file a civil lawsuit.
There are also common law protections for employees who:
Perform a public duty
Refuse to perform an illegal act
Exercise an important job-related right or privilege, such as filing a workers compensation claim.
Colorado protects employees who refuse to perform any illegal acts as a part of their regular work-related duties. The Colorado Supreme Court has also stated that an employee should not be faced with the choice of losing his or her job and obeying an employer’s order but violating the law.
However, there are exceptions in which you would not be protected as a whistleblower in Colorado:
Employees who knowingly disclose false or fraudulent information, or disclose information with “reckless disregard” for its truth
Employees who disclose information from public records that are closed to inspection by the public beyond specific government representatives
Employees who disclose other confidential information not disclosed to the public
Federal whistleblower protections
There are a number of federal protections for whistleblowers. Many are administered by OSHA (the Occupational Safety And Health Administration.) Since Colorado is a federal-OSHA state, these laws cover federal employees and private companies with 10 or more employees.
Additionally, the Whistleblower Protection Act protects federal employees who report incidents of waste, mismanagement, abuse of authority, law or regulation violations, or danger to the public safety.
If you’re a whistleblower in Colorado, the state allows two years for you to file a complaint against your employer for retaliation. If you are planning to file a lawsuit, it’s important to meet with a civil rights attorney as soon as possible.
Contact the Civil Rights Litigation Group in Denver
Deciding to blow the whistle on wrongdoing at your job is a courageous act that can bring unwanted consequences that you weren’t expecting. Whistleblowers have been responsible for a number of corrections that would not ordinarily have been addressed without them.
But if your employer retaliates against you or another employee after becoming a whistleblower, contact a leading civil rights attorney to represent you.
The Civil Rights Litigation Group is dedicated to protecting the rights of employee whistleblowers who are targeted with retaliation. We’ll vigorously pursue lawsuits against employers who have retaliated against employees, and will fight to get you compensation for your damages.
In any corner of the Internet, there are bloggers to talk about anything and everything. Food. Fashion. Culture. Trends. Anything people talk about. Supplemented by social media, a blogger can be unknown one day and known around the world the next. And they may not know their first amendment rights.
You may be considering a blog of your own. Maybe you want to talk about Denver’s restaurant scene, the city’s LGBT-friendly places to visit or the annual Denver Pride Fest. Or you’d like to inform the general public about a problem or two that not everyone knows about. Once you set up your website and start writing, you may wonder if you can say whatever you want. Yes, and no. Blogging is, for the most part, protected speech under the First Amendment. But before you start posting about something, there are a few things you need to be aware of.
What fhe First Amendment says
The actual text says:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
Free speech includes making statements about a person or topic that are truthful or based on an honest opinion. But there are exceptions, including:
Whether you work for a news organization or not, as a blogger you are still protected by the First Amendment. Indeed, many bloggers have uncovered stories that have undermined the so-called mainstream media, or stories the MSM ignored but needed to be told. Differentiation between opinion and fact is also important in a blog post. What happens when you say something someone doesn’t like?
Montana Blogger Crystal Cox is a blogger who considers herself a whistleblower, wrote a series of blog posts accusing Obsidian Finance Group and a bankruptcy trustee of tax fraud. Obsidian sued and won after a lower court found that because Cox wasn’t a paid journalist, Obsidian didn’t have to prove that Cox acted with negligence.
However, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled Cox was entitled to a new trial, even though she isn’t formally a reporter. “As the Supreme Court has accurately warned, a First Amendment distinction between the institutional press and other speakers is unworkable,” 9th Circuit Judge Andrew Hurwitz wrote for a unanimous three-judge panel in the case. The attorney for Obsidian and their trustee, Steven Wilker, also observed that the 9th Circuit did not dispute that Cox’s statements and accusations were, indeed, false.
While Cox has been accused of making allegations of fraud and other illegal activities in exchange for payoffs for retractions, she was still found to be protected by the First Amendment. The 9th Circuit ruled that Obsidian would be required to show that Cox exhibited “negligent behavior.” In January of 2014, represented by UCLA School of Law professor Eugene Volokh, Cox won on appeal, giving bloggers the same protections as traditional journalists.
Free speech is a civil right
Are you considering starting your own blog? You’re in good company, and the First Amendment is on your side. But there are some responsibilities that go along with freedom of speech.
If someone has threatened your right to free speech, you can fight back. Call the Civil Rights Litigation Group at (720) 515-6165, or use our online contact form, to schedule your free consultation with us today. We understand civil rights cases, and aggressively defend you in court and make sure your rights are protected.