The college football assistant coach who was fired after referring to voting-rights activist Stacey Abrams as "Fat Albert" on Twitter is suing the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga to reinstate him to his former position.
As reported by the Associated Press, Chris Malone filed his lawsuit Tuesday in the Eastern District of U.S. District Court, naming as defendants chancellor Steven Angle, athletic director Mark Wharton and coach Rusty Wright individually and in their roles at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga.
Malone says he was forced to resign Jan. 7 and that his First Amendment rights were violated in the process. In a tweet preserved through screen captures, Malone posted the following on the night of Jan. 5: “Congratulations to the state GA and Fat Albert @staceyabrams because you have truly shown America the true works of cheating in an election, again!!! Enjoy the buffet Big Girl!! You earned it!!! Hope the money is good, still not governor!”
According to the lawsuit, the tweet was posted for only 30 minutes, during which time three former players complained about it. Roughly 24 hours later, Malones entire Twitter account was removed.
Now, Malone wants his job back along with back pay and damages. The lawsuit argues Malone made the social media post on his own time on his own Twitter account as a private citizen and did not need permission or approval.
“In most states, employers are allowed to be controlling and vindictive when it comes to social media," Malone's attorney, Doug Churdar, said Thursday, as reported by the AP. “It’s different for government or public employers. They cannot ignore the First Amendment.”
The lawsuit alleges Malone heard nothing about the post from Wright until the head coach called him late on the afternoon of Jan. 6. Malone says Wright told him later the matter had gone “over his head" before calling him on the morning of Jan. 7 to email his resignation.
Chattanooga announced later that day that Malone had been fired. Wharton, who had been alerted to the post's brief existence the night before, did not refer to Malone by name but called the content “totally inappropriate” and “appalling.” Wright said the post violated the program's standards.
Malone has coached about 20 years at UMass, VMI, James Madison, Old Dominion, Virginia State and Chattanooga.