Sidney L. Gold was recently quoted in an article addressing the Philadelphia police officers who wanted their jobs reinstated after punishment due to racist social media posts. In June 2019, racist and violent Facebook posts by police offers were made public and started a wave of protests across the United States. The Plain View Project, a database of public Facebook posts and comments made by current and former police officers, enabled the public to do their own research on what officers are saying in their neighborhoods.
In Philadelphia, many uniformed officers were punished for their online conduct and the content they posted. Now, a year later, those officers who were punished are appealing their discipline through the police union’s arbitration process. The officers who voluntarily left the department are also appealing their punishment, despite the chance of permanent termination.
Due to the demonstrations that occurred in 2019, the Philadelphia Police Department sought to terminate 15 police officers for their online content. Eleven out of the 15 officers resigned or retired instead of facing formal termination; the other officers were given month-long suspensions. All officers involved have filed grievances to try and get their jobs back. A grievance arbitration is a common process for police departments but it is also quite controversial. This process has led to the rehiring and badge returns of fired officers, despite their past wrongdoings. Grievance arbitration has become a topic of conversation as of recent due to the Black Lives Matter movement.
The Federal Order of Police (FOP) argues that the resignations of the police officers from 2019 were forced dismissals. The past Police Commissioner framed the resignations as more effective than terminations because, under Pennsylvania labor law, unionized employees do not usually grieve resignation or retirement. The officers who filed grievances claimed that their actions were a type of constructive discharge, where the only choice was to resign.
Proving this argument in court is extremely difficult. Sidney L. Gold stated that it is very restrictive and that the officers would need to prove their working conditions were intolerable, that they complained to an employer to improve those conditions, and that those efforts failed. The appeal process is still ongoing with many obstacles ahead for the officers who desire to be reinstated. To read more about the investigation and Sidney L. Gold’s legal perspective on the case, click here.