by John Grooms
There were a lot of contenders for this prestigious award: Harold Johnson vs. Tim D'Annunzio was a no-brainer, as were a variety of shenanigans by city and county "leaders." However, a mundane, but all too typical, firing of an employee who dared speak her mind took the cake, in this writer's opinion.
In May, a controversy provoked by the rise of online social networks brought national attention to Charlotte, but not in a good way. It was all about the firing of a gabby Facebook-posting waitress. Ashley Johnson, 22, had to work late one day at Brixx Uptown, when a couple having lunch stayed for three hours and then stiffed her with a crappy $5 tip for her trouble. Johnson went home and, via a Facebook post, told her friends her tale of woe about the inconsiderate couple, whom she called cheap piece of shit camper(s). Hey, its a free country, right? Well, apparently not, because the folks at Brixx soon told Johnson to hit the bricks for violating the companys policy against speaking disparagingly about customers, and against casting the restaurant in a negative light on social networks. That move by Brixx, along with the restaurants ongoing defense of their actions in the face of widespread criticism, is the winner of our Stupidest Thing to Happen in Charlotte in 2010 Award.
We were particularly concerned about the violation of Johnsons free-speech rights. At the time, we wrote:
If Johnson wants to talk about customers once she is away from her employers premises, what right does her employer have to tell her she cant? . . . just because Johnson used new media to lodge her gripe, how is the new medias long reach her fault? and, more importantly, how does it nullify her right to free speech?
In the past 20 years, American employees have seen an increase in employers attempts to control their speech, to the point that the practice has become old hat at many businesses. . . . Contrary to what many corporations think, employees are not company possessions, and businesses are not our parents. They are also, most certainly, not above the U.S. Constitution. . . . Any rule against making disparaging comments about customers away from company property is intrusive and offensive. And if a worker casts her employer in a negative light while shes away from work, that, too, is her business. . . . Sure, Johnsons Facebook post could conceivably, albeit slightly, affect Brixxs bottom line. But here is another, more critical, bottom line: Employers are neither feudal lords nor plantation owners, and employees are not company possessions.