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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Employee's Speech Not Protected Under First Amendment

The Seventh Circuit recently addressed the issue of free speech and public employees in McArdle v. Peoria School Dist. No. 150, No. 11-2437 (January 31, 2012). Plaintiff, a principal, brought suit against her employer school district, alleging that the district terminated her to prevent her from publicly revealing misconduct committed by her supervisor.  The principal alleged that her supervisor used school funds for personal purposes, circumvented rules regarding admission procedures for nonresidents, and directed payment to a student teacher in violation of policy.  In her case against the district, plaintiff alleged that both the supervisor and the school district violated her First Amendment rights when the supervisor orchestrated her termination to prevent her from revealing the alleged misconduct.
The district court ruled in favor of the school district, and on appeal, the Seventh Circuit affirmed. The court noted that in order for a public employee to raise a successful First Amendment claim for an employer’s restriction of speech, the speech must be in the employee’s capacity as a private citizen and not as an employee. The Seventh Circuit evaluated plaintiff’s duties regarding district policies and finances, and determined that her reporting of the supervisor’s misconduct was an action of a public employee, and not protected by the First Amendment. The court noted that whistleblower laws and labor codes would more properly protect such exposure of misconduct by a public employee.
Post Authored by Erin Baker, Ancel Glink.


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