DES MOINES, Iowa — An administrative law judge has awarded unemployment benefits to a prison guard who was fired over a bumper sticker that other employees also displayed on their vehicles.
Derek White, of West Branch, was fired from the Oakdale prison in February over a bumper sticker that disparaged the prison. White gave it to other workers, and some put it on their vehicles.
Officials asked White and the others to remove or conceal the stickers while at work. White allegedly refused and was fired for insubordination.
At a hearing, White claimed freedom of speech. State officials argued White's speech undermined public confidence in the criminal justice system.
The judge awarded jobless benefits because officials treated White differently than other workers.
The Des Moines Register quoted from Administrative Law Judge Beth A. Scheetz’s ruling: "The employer issued a co-worker an e-mailed employee discipline and then turned a blind eye on the continued display of an easily readable 'F##K Joakdale. I like real prisons' sticker in the parking lot for more than two months after the discipline."
The newspaper also reported that union officials had declined to say whether White's dismissal would be appealed.
First Amendment Center Online staff contributed to this report.