A former MLGW worker learned the hard way standing up for your beliefs on your own time can get you fired. The meter reader attended a pro-statue rally this summer, and ended up losing his job. Now he’s suing MLGW to get his job back.
The lawsuit was filed in federal court. Those close to the situation say this was a “witch hunt,” and that Mike Goza was targeted by people who want Confederate statues to be taken down; that they emailed MLGW and on Facebook urged others to do the same.
Goza attended the August 2017 rally in front of the Jefferson Davis statue. The downtown Memphis park was filled with people against and for taking down the statue.
According to this lawsuit, Goza attended the rally on his off day, as a private citizen, and was there in support of his personal belief that the statue is not a racist symbol and should not be removed.
The next day, MLGW got an email from a protestor in favor of taking down the statues. The email identified Goza as a potential MLGW employee, using his Facebook profile pictures taken 3 years prior.
According to the lawsuit, the email included screen shots of Goza’s private Facebook page where he expressed his opinions on race and the statues, which the emailer perceived as racist and inappropriate for a government employee.
Goza was terminated a six weeks later. MLGW stated it was for violating company policies in his speech and actions.
A statement from Goza’s attorney says in part, “As a governmental entity, MLGW under the first amendment is not permitted to make employment decisions based on whether it agrees or disagrees with its employees’ personal beliefs or statements made on their own time. The first amendment protects all governmental employees whether they share their beliefs of Mr. Goza or those of individuals aligned with groups like Black Lives Matter.”
Steve Mulroy is a law professor at the University of Memphis. “If all this guy did was attend a public rally off site after hours as part of his private actions not related to his duties as an MLGW employee, then it is problematic for MLGW to take any adverse employment actions, especially termination,” says Mulroy.
As for Goza, after 32 years working for MLGW without any reprimands in his file, he lost his job, had to sell his house, and had to leave the Memphis area to find work.
“It’s pretty juvenile discussing and immature to try and hamper somebody’s employment just because you may disagree with his view point,” says Lee Millar. Millar is with the Sons of Confederate Veterans and was at the rally that day. Millar remembered seeing Goza there.
A spokesperson for MLGW says they are not commenting because it’s a pending legal matter.