Chattanooga assistant fired over tweet sues to get job back

A Chattanooga football assistant coach fired over a social media post disparaging the state of Georgia and voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams is suing to get his job back along with backpay and damages

Chris Malone says he was forced to resign Jan. 7 in the lawsuit filed Tuesday in the Eastern District of U.S. District Court. Malone is suing Chancellor Steven Angle, athletic director Mark Wharton and coach Rusty Wright individually and in their roles at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga.

“In most states, employers are allowed to be controlling and vindictive when it comes to social media," Malone's attorney, Doug Churdar, said Thursday. “It’s different for government or public employers. They cannot ignore the First Amendment.”

Chattanooga declined to comment Thursday because of the pending litigation.

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. Malone has coached approximately 20 years at UMass, VMI, James Madison, Old Dominion, Virginia State and Chattanooga.

Malone deleted the tweet about 30 minutes later after three former players responded negatively, according to the lawsuit. The assistant coach’s Twitter account was deleted the night of Jan. 6.

The lawsuit alleges Malone heard nothing about the post from Wright until the 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 said in a statement the post was brought to his attention the night before. Wharton did not refer to Malone by name but called the social media post “totally inappropriate” and “appalling.” Wright said the post violated the program's standards.

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