A former New York policeman is charging the police department with violating his right to free speech after firing him for operating a Web site where officers rant about their jobs.
The content of the NYPD Rant Web site was cited by the department as justification for firing housing officer Edward Polstein, whose lawyer on Wednesday said he was fighting back with a complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the New York State Division of Human Rights.
"The whole idea was to punish him for the Rant," said Eric Sanders, lawyer for 18-year police veteran Polstein, 43. "It's clear retaliation. There's no question about it."
The police department declined to comment on the case or the site.
Polstein agreed to an early retirement last October after the department raised objections to the site. But earlier this month, the department retroactively changed the termination to a firing, costing him a significant portion of his pension benefits, Sanders said.
The Rant receives an average of 60,000 anonymous hits per day, with comments on topics ranging from a spat between Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg about low pay for police recruits to lack of instruction for dealing with suicide bombers in light of London's recent bombings.
Some of the entries are openly critical of police department procedure and Kelly, referring to him as the cartoon character Popeye and decrying his tactics to muzzle any criticism of him or the department.
Many entries are in questionable taste and others are lewd or racist, like a series of jokes that begin with, "you know you're in the ghetto when...," but Sanders contends that does not give the department the right to violate free speech.
Polstein operated the site on his own time and at his own expense for noncommercial use, the lawyer said.
The EEOC now has 180 days to get the parties to mediate or settle the claim, which was filed earlier this week but became known on Wednesday, before a suit can be filed in federal court.
Sanders said he was confident he could make the case that Polstein's First Amendment rights were violated.
"The city has been sued on that and lost on that before," he said. "This is not the first time this has been raised." Source