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Federal Bureaucrats Keep Legally Harassing The Federalist over aTwitter Joke

pa href=https://www.cato.org/people/ilya-shapiro hreflang=undIlya Shapiro/a/p div class=fs-sm pIn June 2019, around the time staffers at Vox Media unionized, Ben Domenech, the publisher of this website,nbsp;a href=https://bit.ly/38KTffzjokingly tweeted/anbsp;from his personal Twitter account: “FYI @fdrlst first one of you tries to unionize Inbsp;swear I’ll send you back to the salt mine.”/p /div , div class=fs-sm pA Twitter troll named Joel Fleming, who has no connection to emThe Federalist/em, filed anbsp;charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NRLB), claiming Ben’s tweet amounted to anbsp;violation of labor law by parent company FDRLST Media: threatening reprisal against those wishing to form anbsp;union./p pThe NLRB’s general counsel decided this random person met the statutory definition of a “person aggrieved” by Domenech’s “unfair labor practice” and filed anbsp;complaint based on that charge. In other words, anbsp;government agency made anbsp;joke tweet into anbsp;federal case./p pEven more remarkably, the NLRB’s administrative law judge ruled against Domenech, as did the board itself, ordering him to delete the tweet, among other relief. That order has been appealed to the Philadelphia‐​based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit (which covers Delaware, where FDRLST Media is registered as anbsp;limited liability company, or LLC)./p /div , aside class=aside--right aside--large aside div class=pullquote p-mb-last-child-0 pThis case can be resolved on the basis of one fact: Domenech’s tweet was anbsp;joke, not anbsp;threat. /p /div /aside , div class=fs-sm pMy own Cato Institute, joined by anbsp;motley crew of jokesters and free‐​speech advocates — including former American Civil Liberties Union president Nadine Strossen, satirist P.J. O’Rourke, and Las Vegas headliners Penn amp;nbsp;Teller — has now filednbsp;a href=https://www.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/2021-03/FDRLST%20v%20NLRB%203d%20Cir.pdfan amicus brief/anbsp;supporting FDRLST Media. Following ournbsp;a href=https://www.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/pubs/pdf/sba-list-merits-filed-brief.pdflong/anbsp;a href=https://www.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/pubs/pdf/walker-v-confed-vets-merits.pdftradition/anbsp;of “a href=https://www.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/pubs/pdf/lee-v-tam-merits.pdffunny/anbsp;a href=https://www.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/pubs/pdf/brunetti-merits.pdfbriefs/a,” it makes light of the law at issue and lambasts the government for being humorless./p pThis case can be resolved on the basis of one fact: Domenech’s tweet was anbsp;joke, not anbsp;threat. We know this because he sent it out to his more than 80,000 followers — and anyone else who might find it through retweets or other shares./p pThat’s not the typicalnbsp;emmodus operandi/emnbsp;for breaking federal labor law. If Domenech had really wanted to punish the six employees of FDRLST Media at the time, he would have done it in an email. And if he reallynbsp;emreally/emnbsp;wanted to punish them, he would have done it in anbsp;proverbial meeting (now via Zoom?) that could have been an email./p pThe tweet was also clearly anbsp;joke because it was, well, funny. FDRLST Media is not anbsp;cartoonishly evil mega‐​conglomerate with its own salt mine. Those who approach company headquarters need not fear that Monty Burns Domenech might “release the hounds.” For that matter, there are no company headquarters, or at least offices; long before the pandemic, emThe Federalist/em writers and staff all worked remotely./p pBut Ben’s tweet played into that evil‐​industrialist trope for humorous effect. There’s no indication any FDRLST employee viewed it as anything more than anbsp;joke because no reasonable FDRLST employeenbsp;emcould havenbsp;/emviewed it as anything but anbsp;joke. Indeed, two employees filed sworn affidavits to that effect./p pAmazingly, the administrative law judge dismissed the probative value of these interpretations, holding that under NLRB precedent a “subjective interpretation from an employee is not of any value” to the analysis of whether it was objectively threatening. The NLRB likewise deemed these employees’ interpretations “irrelevant.”/p pI’m of course in anbsp;unique position of being both anbsp;senior contributor to emThe Federalist/em — which means I’m an independent contractor, not an employee — and counsel of record on Cato’s amicus brief, but Inbsp;took it as anbsp;joke as well. Indeed, from my experience emailing with staff, Inbsp;can attest that just as writers take Domenech’s story requests to heart,nbsp;emnobody/emnbsp;takes his tweets seriously. (Full disclosure: neither Domenech nor anyone else at FDRLST Media contributed to Cato’s brief, either editorially or financially, or even asked me to file it.)/p pFinally, Inbsp;should stress that, even though the tweet was anbsp;joke, this case is not. If you can be hauled into court and found in violation of federal law on the basis of satire, sarcasm, or hyperbole, everyone will self‐​censor his humor, to the detriment of freewheeling discourse./p pWill the NLRB next come for motivational posters saying, “The beatings will continue until morale improves”? Will exasperated exhortations on Twitter to “burn it all down” lead to house calls from the FBI?/p pIt would be better not to start down that path. The NLRB should learn to take anbsp;joke./p /div




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