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Friday, December 5, 2014

Employee's Letter About Treatment of Adjuncts a Matter of Public Concern

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals recently reviewed First Amendment protections for public employees in Meade v. Moraine Valley Community College (Oct. 30, 2014).  There, a college professor wrote a letter to an outside organization about her employer college.  The letter alleged that the college poorly treated its adjunct professors, which harmed its students. She signed the letter in her capacity as president of the Moraine Valley Adjunct Faculty Organization, a union representing adjunct faculty.  Two days later, she was fired, and the notice of termination expressly stated that the reason was her letter.

She sued the college, alleging that her employer retaliate against her for exercising her right to freedom of speech.  The college defended its actions by arguing that her letter did not address "matters of public concern" and could not, therefore, serve as the basis for a First Amendment retaliation claim.  The district court determined that the letter was not a matter of public concern because Meade would be personally affected by any changes in policy.

On appeal, the 7th Circuit disagreed with the district court and found that Meade's letter did discuss matters of public concern by addressing treatment of all adjuncts (not just Meade), and linking that treatment to student performance at the college.  As a result, the case was remanded to the district court to consider whether (1) the employee's speech was a substantial or motivating factor in her termination and (2) the college can show that it would have taken the same action without the existence of the protected speech. 

To read more about this case, visit The Workplace Report here.


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