MassHealth employee fired after Facebook posts about masks, Nazi Germany

She says her First Amendment rights have been "trampled on"

BOSTON, MA: November 14, 2020: Signage in Maverick Square in East Boston asks residents to wear masks as COVID-19 infection numbers are on the increase  in Boston, Massachusetts. (Staff photo by Nicolaus Czarnecki/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)
BOSTON, MA: November 14, 2020: Signage in Maverick Square in East Boston asks residents to wear masks as COVID-19 infection numbers are on the increase in Boston, Massachusetts. (Staff photo by Nicolaus Czarnecki/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)
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A MassHealth employee who said she was fired after she compared calling the police on neighbors for not wearing masks to Nazi Germany tells the Herald that her First Amendment rights have been “trampled on” and she’s considering legal action.

Denise Foley, 60, is no longer MassHeath’s director of internal and external training and communication following the firestorm in a private Milton Facebook group that has 12,000 members.

It all started on Dec. 3 when someone in the Milton Neighbors Facebook group posted they had received a mailer about turning in neighbors who aren’t wearing masks.

Foley responded to the post, “Sounds like what the Nazis did in Germany.”

She later wrote in the comments, “How dare anyone try to take away my rights! I have the right NOT to wear a mask if I don’t want to. I have the right to gather with friends and family if I want to. If that’s a problem for you or anyone else, report me!”

Her comments were anonymously sent to MassHealth. She was then placed on paid administrative leave and later terminated.

Foley is now looking to bring a First Amendment lawsuit against the state.

“They trampled on my First Amendment rights,” Foley told the Herald on Monday. “I want people to be held accountable. MassHealth should be held accountable for not following the law and trampling on my First Amendment rights.”

A spokeswoman for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services declined to comment, saying the agency doesn’t comment on personnel matters.

Foley was placed on paid administrative leave on Dec. 21, and fired on Jan. 27.

“Following an investigation, the Executive Office of Health and Human Services has determined that it no longer has confidence in your ability to perform your duties effectively,” wrote Dan Tsai, assistant secretary for MassHealth. Foley shared a copy of that letter with the Herald.

Foley, who said she wears a mask, had listed her employment information on her Facebook profile.

First Amendment lawyer Harvey Silverglate said the state agency should have told Foley to remove that employment info instead of firing her.

“If the state was concerned that her various posts on social media were running counter to the mission of the agency, they should have taken a less drastic alternative and had her remove her employment identification,” he said.

A wrongful termination lawsuit is possible, he said, adding, “She can argue the state had an obligation to provide the least damaging alternative.”

Public employees should have the freedom to speak about issues in their communities, said Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition.

Silverman added, “If they can do so without affecting the job they have in government, then I do think we should be taking every opportunity we can to make that happen and protect that speech.”