Berkeley County man who filed lawsuit against SCDOT to give settlement money to Whitesville Fire Department

Berkeley County News

BERKELEY COUNTY, S.C. (WCBD) – A Berkeley County man who filed a lawsuit against the South Carolina Department of Transportation plans to donate some of the money from that settlement to the Whitesville Rural Fire Department.

The lawsuit was filed after the plaintiff, Tom Fernandez, said the state agency blocked him from commenting on their Facebook posts.

“The SCDOT made a video on Facebook talking about how they repair potholes, and I disagreed with the content of their video. I told them so in a post,” said Fernandez.

He said the agency deleted his comment and banned him from their Facebook page.

Fernandez is a lawyer. “You know, one: why did you ban it? It was not inflammatory and you’re a government agency silencing me for disagreeing with your conduct. I was unconstitutional,” he said.

When the SCDOT would not remove their ban, he filed a lawsuit claiming his 1st amendment rights were violated.

The case went to trial on Monday of this week.

“Our first day of trial went really well for us,” he said. “That evening, SCDOT called requesting a settlement.”

They agreed to pay him $315,000 to settle the case. He said after paying his lawyer, he will donate the rest of the money to the Whitesville Rural Fire Department.

The SCDOT’s Secretary of Transportation, Christy Hall, sent us a statement regarding the lawsuit and settlement:

“The legal landscape around the use and management of social media platforms is constantly evolving as well as the technology itself.  As stated recently by the US Supreme Court, today’s digital social media platforms provide avenues for historically unprecedented amounts of speech.

SCDOT engages in the use of social media to provide information to the public and in 2018, SCDOT was involved in a first amendment dispute involving social media comments.    After recent negotiations, a settlement was agreed to by both parties in this particular case acknowledging no liability, no wrongdoing or otherwise by the South Carolina Department of Transportation.

The South Carolina Department of Transportation supports a person’s first amendment right to free speech in our Country.  It is a fundamental component of our democracy and is core to our values.”

Fernandez says he is not keeping any of the settlement money, since it is taxpayer dollars. “It’s a clear warning to every state and local government agency, and every politician to not retaliate against citizens when they disagree with their conduct,” he said.

Whitesville Rural Fire Department Chief Stephenson said they plan to take the money and convert one of their fire engines into a paramedic engine, adding capabilities that you would normally find on an ambulance. The only exception is that it won’t be used to transport patients.

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