MN lawsuit wonders: Can you be fired for supporting Trump?

The moral of this story appears to be … choose your business partners carefully. A group of attorneys have filed suit in Minnesota against their former senior partner for cashiering them and others over social-media posts supporting Donald Trump. Wesley Scott allegedly accused them of plotting a “coup” against him as well:

In the wake of the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, when Trump supporters violently stormed the building to prevent congressional certification of Joe Biden’s election as president, the suit alleges that law firm president Wesley Scott sought to fire employees he believed had made pro-Trump posts on social media. …

According to the complaint, Scott was disturbed by the Capitol riot and sent an e-mail in April to all the firm’s lawyers, saying that the “traitors on Jan. 6” should have been shot.

He then told the firm’s operations manager to fire two employees he labeled “racist” because they had pro-Trump and pro-police posts on their social media accounts.

When she refused to fire the employees, Scott fired her, according to the complaint. Scott then fired an additional employee and threatened to fire another.

The three partners confronted Scott, according to court documents, and told him that firing an employee for political beliefs is against state law. Scott then fired them and called St. Cloud police to remove the pregnant [Kelsey] Quarberg, claiming she was trespassing and physically threatening him.

Keep in mind that this is no small-beans operation. Kain & Scott have nine offices in the state, covering all of the major cities in Minnesota. (All two of them. — Hush!) This could end up being a significant case, not just because of the subject matter and principle involved, but also because it might dissolve a significant legal player.

Why? Scott might have cut off his nose to spite his face:

What’s more, the firm’s ownership is in limbo. The three fired partners together own 50% of the firm, with Scott owning the other half.

D’oh! Scott allegedly reneged on a buyout offer, which is what prompted the lawsuit. With that in mind, keep a skeptical eye on claims made by both sides in the filings. It’s easy to make claims; it’s another thing to prove them in court, as we have repeatedly seen over the last few months. That’s especially true in marriages and other partnerships when they fall apart acrimoniously.

If these claims are correct, however, and especially if they’re provable, Scott has a very big problem on his hands. At-will employment (with the lower-level employees fired) is tricky, but employers generally can’t fire workers for political speech made on their own time. As long as they don’t involve their employers, workers have the right to express themselves politically. Even if an employer was inclined to fire such an employee, he would have to follow the established procedures first or be subject to claims of discrimination, in this case viewpoint discrimination. (Imagine what the media coverage would have been had they been fired for not being Trumpian enough.)

Firing partners with contracts and ownership positions is even more difficult. Unless Scott can show that they violated the terms of those contracts, he’s going to lose, and lose big. You’d think an attorney would know this, but … you’d also think that an attorney would know better than to engage in viewpoint discrimination in the first place.

Maybe Scott thinks he can woo a jury with his anti-Trump stance. Perhaps, but if this goes to a jury, the law firm will be all but dead thanks to the costs and disruption of a trial. Many of their customers will likely decamp for other law firms with less drama and paranoia. The only people who’ll get rich off this suit are the, er … lawyers.