In February, an arbitrator found that the state Department of Correction’s firing of a prison guard, Anthony Marlak, was too severe and instead ordered him to serve a 25-day suspension.
The state of Connecticut has restored Marlak, who was dismissed in 2021 for sharing what was deemed to be an anti-Muslim meme on Facebook. In addition, the arbitrator decided that Marlak should get back wages and benefits.
Marlak, a corrections officer for 14 years, had returned to work at Garner Correctional Institution in March.
Two years ago, the Connecticut branch of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s most prominent Muslim advocacy group, asked for Marlak’s dismissal. They alleged he uploaded a meme on Facebook in 2017 titled “Islamic Wind Chimes,” which portrayed five guys dressed as Muslims hanging from nooses.
Marlak, an Air Force veteran, admitted to posting the picture but said the caption, which read “ISIS Wind Chimes,” was intended to attack just the extreme Islamic State organization and not all Muslims.
Once the meme was reported to the state in 2019, Marlak deactivated the account, and investigators could not locate the post.
Marlak’s lawyers have claimed in court documents that the meme image depicted five men murdered for homosexuality in Iran in 2010.
The state gave Marlak the boot because “the sort of speech displayed threatens the safety of workers and convicts who are Muslim,” according to his termination letter.
State CAIR chapter head Farhan Memon noted that the judgment was mainly an indictment of state authorities for failing to locate the initial social media post. He said it made little difference whether it stated “Islamic” or “ISIS” since many Americans confuse the two.
Memon demanded that the government challenge the verdict.
The union claimed in court that Marlak’s firing was unjustified since his speech was protected because it was posted on a personal Facebook page.
Michael Ricci, the arbitrator, said that “the goal of discipline under labor law is to remedy and not punish,” hence he recommended a reduction in the penalty. He said that the right to free expression should be weighed against the need for businesses to maintain order and productivity.
Marlak has filed a federal employment discrimination complaint against the state.