Friday, April 18, 2008

City allowed to fire employee for speaking with Mayor.

David Davis, a firefighter for the city of Phenix City, Alabama was fired in 2006 after calling his Mayor to discuss a proposal to change the probationary period for city firefighters.  Davis sued in federal court alleging his constitutional free speech rights were violated.

The City's basis for termination was a policy requiring employees to "notify supervisors" if they intend to speak with someone higher up the food chain.  It is important to note that the policy does not prohibit employees from talking to department heads and/or elected officials, it only requires prior notice.

At trial, the judge found that the City offered conflicting reasons for why the policy was adopted; however, it agreed that 'speaking outsdie the chain of command is deleterious on morale and hinders the ability of the City to properly function.'

Ultimately, it was determine that, if employees were only required to give notice before speaking--and were not actually prevented from speaking to superiors--then the policy would be constitutional.  It is probable this case will eventually be reviewed by a higher court but it shows that there are actual limits to the free speech rights of municipal employees. 

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