David Ruffner, senior counsel at Lash & Gooldberg, left, and Michael Landen, partner at Kluger, Kaplan, Silverman, Katzen & Levine, right.
A United Realty Group Inc. real estate agent demonstrating with protesters calling for the firing of the Broward election supervisor is out of a job following a high-profile Twitter video.
Liliana Albarino-Olinick was fired Saturday as an independent contractor with Plantation-based United Realty after videos surfaced of her mocking and berating supporters of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum.
Employment law attorneys said United Realty acted within its rights as an employer dealing with fallout from tight Florida elections that triggered automatic recounts in three statewide races, including Gillum’s run for governor.
In one of the videos posted Friday by Twitter user Djinn, who uses the handle @ARAEveryDay, off-camera protesters are heard chanting, "Count my vote."
Olinick repeated the "count my vote" chant while holding a sign saying, "Fight Corruption in Broward. Fire Brenda Snipes." She them yelled, "Socialists. Socialists."
Djinn, who posted the video, said Olinick was responding to three elderly black women demonstrating for Gillum, who is black, at the Broward County Supervisor of Elections Office in Lauderhill. Snipes also is black.
"They were dancing and chanting, and she was cruelly attempting to imitate and mock them. You can see and hear this clearly. It went on for several minutes," Djinn said on Twitter.
Another protester calling for Snipes’ termination asked Gillum supporters why they wanted the Tallahassee mayor to be governor.
"Because he is black. Because he is black," Olinick chimed in. "If it was a white candidate, they wouldn’t be out, but because he is black, that’s why. Because they are racists, that’s why."
Olinick apologized Monday for her behavior.
It was "very inappropriate behavior, and it’s not the person that I am. I reacted to the back-and-forth political banter and awful things said to me. Some of those statements were just as awful. It’s no excuse," she told the Daily Business Review. "I am sorry for offending anyone, and certainly that was not my intent."
David Chambless, United Realty owner and executive vice president, said he called Olinick on Saturday to terminate her contract along with that of her husband, Shawn Olinick, another real estate agent working under an independent contract with the company.
"As an organization, we don’t condone those actions. We are a very diversified, multicultural organization," Chambless said. "As soon as we found out about it and then we confirmed what happened, we immediately dismissed her from our organization."
Shawn Olinick wasn’t in the videos, and Chambless said he wasn’t present at the protest but still was let go.
"We want to distance ourselves from that association," Chambless said.
Two South Florida employment attorneys said United Realty acted within its discretion.
For one, the Olinicks work in the private sector, which leaves them with fewer First Amendment protections than public employees, said David Ruffner, senior counsel at Lash & Goldberg in Miami.
"There’s much more leeway for private employers to contract about what the term of employment or the relationships are," he said.
The issue comes down to the terms of any contract between United Realty and the Olinicks.
"I don’t see why they (United Realty) wouldn’t be able to take that action short of some sort of governing document that’s an employment contract" giving the Olinicks protections, Ruffner said.
Michael Landen, a partner at Kluger, Kaplan, Silverman, Katzen & Levine in Miami, said there’s no reason United Realty couldn’t sever its relationship with the Olinicks since they were independent contractors.
Private employers dealing with contractors have the right to say, "You know what, we are not going to do business with that company. We don’t like what they stand for."
Since Florida is a right-to-work state, employers have wide latitude on dismissals.
"Short of an unlawful reason, employers in general in Florida have a lot of leeway as to when and why they can fire people," Ruffner said.
Even if Olinick were a silent demonstrator carrying a protest sign, Ruffner said United Realty still would have had the right to terminate her, although he thought it would have been much less likely.
"If she wasn’t doing all the gestures and didn’t bring all the attention to herself, it wouldn’t have become a big enough story that United Realty would have cared," Ruffner said. "They probably would not have cared if she were simply holding a sign that said ‘Fire Brenda.’ "