TACOMA, Wash. (CN) – An ethics board fined two state employees more than $500 apiece for appearing in a television commercial that asked legislators to “stop blaming public servants for the state’s budget woes,” the pair claim in Federal Court.
Brad Samples, a state developmental disabilities case resource manager, and Ginger Richardson, a community corrections officer, say they appeared in the political advertisement with their job titles displayed on the screen.
The Washington State Executive Ethics Board said that display constituted an “illegal use of state resources,” according to the complaint they filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.
They sued the state, the ethics board and several of its officials alongside the Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE), a labor organization that represents public employees and sponsored the underlying commercial.
Though Samples and Richardson say they understand state law prohibits employees from “using any person, money or property under the employee’s official control for private gain,” they note that they were off the clock during the filming and that they “received nothing of value and no personal gain from their participation in the commercials.”
“Each commercial had a banner across the screen clearly stating that the commercial was paid for by the WFSE, and the plaintiffs Samples and Richardson were clearly serving in representative capacities for the WFSE and the thousands of employees of the state of Washington it represents and speaking on a matter on behalf of the organization and its members,” the complaint states.
The employees claim they were exercising their “constitutionally protected freedom of speech,” and that the board’s sanctions could have a chilling effect for other state workers “when such speech may reasonably require a disclosure of even an approximation of their state job title or a generic job title.”
The ethics board has also charged another public employee who appeared in a similar WFSE commercial in which the woman identified herself as a “licensed practical nurse,” according to the complaint.
Samples and Richardson want to enjoin the ethics board from prosecuting them and imposing fines. They also want the court to confirm that their participation in the commercials was protected free speech.
Edward Younglove III of Younglove & Coker in Olympia represents the employees and WFSE.