A University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football coach who was fired in January over an offensive tweet directed at Stacey Abrams is now suing the university’s chancellor, athletic director and head football coach, claiming that the firing violated his free speech rights.
Chris Malone, a former offensive line coach at UT Chattanooga, tweeted at Abrams, the Black voting rights activist in Georgia and former gubernatorial candidate, on Jan. 5 after the runoff races in the state for the United States Senate. Malone called Abrams “Fat Albert” and “Big Girl,” and falsely suggested that there was “cheating” in the election.
He was pressured to resign or be fired two days later, according to the lawsuit, which was filed Wednesday in United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee.
Malone argues in the lawsuit that the tweet was simply a “fat joke” and that university officials retaliated against him for exercising his First Amendment rights. He sent the tweet “as a private citizen -- on his own personal time, at his personal residence, and from his personal Twitter account” and the account did not identify him as an employee of the university, according to the lawsuit.
UT Chattanooga “is a public university and is governed by the First Amendment,” Malone’s attorney, Doug Churdar, said in a press release. “UTC is going to get acquainted with the First Amendment. As a public school, it cannot control what its employees say at social gatherings or on social media. It certainly cannot fire them for criticizing and mocking politicians.”
Jay Blackman, deputy athletic director for media relations at the university, declined to comment on the pending litigation.