Thursday, July 17, 2008

Free Speech vs. Job-Related Remarks

There have been two recent federal cases interpreting the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in the Garcetti v. Ceballos lawsuit.  In that case, the Court denied any free speech protection to municipal employees who are disciplined or terminated after raising concerns "related to [the employee's] job function."  See Public Safety Labor News, July 2008.

In Texas, a police officer was terminated after reporting the crimes of fellow officers to his Chief.  Officer Sillers contended both that his First Amendment rights, as well as rights under a whistleblower's statute, were violated by the Chief's actions.  In Arkansas, another police officer was terminated after merely expressing concerns to the City Administrator about a new city program that he felt was wasteful of city funds.

In both cases, the federal trial court held that the Ceballos case prohibited the officers from pursuing First Amendment claims because 'the remarks were made as part of the officers' job duties and, therefore, were unprotected.'  See Sillers v. City of Everman, Texas, 2008 WL 2222236; and Barrows v. City of Forth Smith, Arkansas, 2008 WL 2026088.

Both of these district court cases appear to expand the holding of Ceballos, especially the Barrows lawsuit as that officer's concerns were not based on his job-obtained knowledge nor were they made up the internal chain of command (i.e., to the Chief).  What both officers and cities should take away from these decisions is the idea that federal courts no longer appear interested in ways to increase the number of First Amendment lawsuits and/or employment lawsuits on their docket.

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