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Fired for Facebook Posts, EMT Says

OPELIKA, Ala. (CN) - A paramedic claims in court that the City of Valley wrongfully fired him for encouraging friends, on his Facebook page, to attend a City Council meeting at which the elimination of the EMS Department would be discussed.

Scott Hamil sued the City of Valley and its Mayor Arnold Leak, in Federal Court.

Hamil says he learned in October 2011 that the department would be eliminated by the end of the year.

Hamil claims he was informed of this by EMS Director Tim Hughes, who said he had received word directly from the mayor, who told him he could inform EMS employees.

"The plaintiff and all other EMS employees were shocked by this news, knowing that the public health and safety would be adversely affected, as well as their own jobs," Hamil says in his complaint. "The average length of employment in the EMS department was 10 years, and as such, the employees were seasoned veterans, capable of performing their work well. The termination of their work would have left Valley at a considerable risk as far as the health and safety of its citizens."

Hamil says he began discussing the situation on his Facebook page.

At no time, he says, was he disrespectful to the mayor or City Council of the City of Valley. He says he merely wrote of his concern about the loss of the EMS Department, and encouraged friends to attend an upcoming council meeting.

In response, he says, Mayor Leak berated him in an exchange on Facebook and then firing him on the pretext that he had engaged in abusive conduct, conduct unbecoming an employee, and insubordination.

Hamil says appealed his firing to the City Council, which affirmed the mayor's decision.

In its letter of determination, Hamil says, the City Council recognized his right to free speech on a matter of public concern. However, the letter stated: "When evaluating your commentary, it must be determined whether your interest in commenting on matters of public concern outweighs the city's interest in promoting efficiency of the public services it performs," according to the complaint. "As can be seen in the balance of said letter, Ms. [Mayor Pro Tem Debra] Chambers sets forth reasons why she believes the city's interests in promoting efficiency was greater, and therefore plaintiff's free speech rights were not violated."

Hamil seeks compensatory and punitive damages for violation of his First Amendment rights.

Hamil is represented by Julian McPhillips, with McPhillips Shinbaum, of Montgomery.

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