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State Employee Will Resume Duties After Facebook Post, But Not For Long

A state employee who alleged she was demoted for a political post on Facebook will get her job duties back ― for two workdays before a scheduled retirement begins.

Candus Thomson, who most recently worked as a spokeswoman for the Department of Natural Resources Police, alleges that she was removed from media duties in September after a post from her personal Facebook account referred to Democratic gubernatorial nominee Benjamin T. Jealous as an “assclown,” following reports that he’d vetoed a reporter as a panelist for a gubernatorial debate.

In court filings, state officials noted that Thomson’s job was not reclassified nor was there any decrease in her salary. State officials also said Thomson failed to show a distinct connection between the Facebook post and her new job duties.

In her initial complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore against Natural Resources Secretary Mark Belton alleging a violation of her First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, Thomson characterized the removal of her duties responding to the press as a “demotion.”

“She was demoted and stripped of her media-related duties solely because she exercised her First Amendment rights on the personal Facebook page of a news-reporter friend in response to his posting about gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous,” the complaint states, noting that the post was made at 5 a.m. Sept. 17 from Thomson’s personal iPad in her living room, before her working hours.

Thomson was responding to a conversation on the Facebook page of Daily Record reporter Bryan P. Sears about the Jealous campaign’s veto of Hagerstown Herald-Mail reporter Tamela Baker as a debate panelist. The Jealous campaign subsequently withdrew the veto and accused the reelection campaign of Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) of having “severely limited” the debate negotiations.

The complaint said that Thomson was contacted by Maryland Natural Resources Police Col. Robert Ziegler on Sept. 18 about her Facebook post from a day earlier. At that time, Thomson was surprised by the call, offered to remove her post and did so later that day. Later in the week, two DNR police commanders were instructed by the director of the Office of Communications to take over Thomson’s media duties, according to the complaint.

Thomson has worked for DNR as a public information officer for about five years. She previously worked as a newspaper reporter for four decades, including 25 years at The Baltimore Sun.

“We all feel the First Amendment must be adhered to by the state. There are few rights, if any, as important as those rights involving comment on the political process,” Thomson’s attorney, James B. Astrachan said Friday evening. “We are grateful for the trial judge who fit this case into her very busy schedule and allowed us the time to present our case.”

Stephen Schatz, director of communications for the Department of Natural Resources, issued a brief statement: “We are disappointed in the judge’s decision, but will abide by the order until the employee resigns from state service Nov. 6.”

Thomson had previously put in for retirement, to become effective Tuesday. Election Day is a state holiday and offices are closed, but as a police spokeswoman Thomson is routinely on duty most holidays and plans to be on duty on Tuesday. Then her state career will end.

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State Employee Will Resume Duties After Facebook Post, But Not For Long