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Thread: Judge says MLGW must pay fired worker who protested statue removal

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    Judge says MLGW must pay fired worker who protested statue removal



    Source: Daily Memphian

    U.S. District Judge Jon McCalla has ruled that a former Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division employee, who was fired from his job for protesting Confederate statues' removal, is due nearly $160,000 in back pay and benefits and must be rehired.

    McCalla ruled the employee, Michael Goza, was discriminated against based on his race. The judge also said Goza's constitutional rights to free speech and equal protection under the law were violated.

    As a result, MLGW has been ordered to pay Michael Goza $159,826.90 in back pay and benefits, along with $30,000 in compensatory damages.

    The two parties have been directed by McCalla to meet by Friday and submit a proposal for the proper amount of back pay as well as prejudgment interest through May 24, 2019.

    The lawsuit was filed by Goza in 2017 after he was fired by MLGW from his job as a customer service field tech. Officials with the utility company said he violated several company policies when he attended a rally in August 2017 at a Downtown Memphis park that centered on removing Confederate statues from city parks.

    “The government does not have to turn a blind eye to the speech of its employees, but MLGW’s decisions in this case were based on unconstitutional factors,” McCalla said in his ruling, which was issued June 14.

    Goza was fired because of his race, the judge said, citing another case in which an African-American MLGW employee who advocated killing Asian-Americans was suspended for three days.

    McCalla also said that “Goza was speaking as a private citizen and on matters of public concern.”

    According to the lawsuit, Goza was quoted by The Commercial Appeal at the rally saying: “What I’m tired of is being portrayed as KKK or a white supremacist simply because I’m a white guy who wants to preserve my heritage.”

    After the rally, residents learned that Goza worked at MLGW after seeing a picture of him and his daughter in his company truck on his Facebook page. They complained to MLGW about him and an investigation was launched by the utility.

    Six days after the August 2017 rally, MLGW suspended Goza without pay while the company investigated. In October 2017, the utility gave Goza two options: take another job with a pay cut in which he would not be out in the field in contact with African-American customers or be terminated from his job.

    Goza refused the other job offered by the company and was fired by MLGW. He then filed a federal civil suit in December 2017 arguing that his right to free speech was violated because when he attended the rally, he did so when he was not working and the interviews with the media were protected by the First Amendment and the 14th Amendment.

    He also argued that his firing was retaliatory by the utility against him as a white man because African-American employees violated company policy with similar actions and speech, but they were not fired.

    After he was fired from his job, Goza said in the suit that he had to sell his home because he could no longer afford the mortgage and moved from the Memphis area to Middle Tennessee.

    A two-day bench trial was held Feb. 25 before McCalla. After the trial, Collierville’s Assistant District Attorney, Michael Cross, resigned from his job for “health reasons” after reports of him posting pro-white nationalist messages on social media came out during Goza’s trial.
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