Dismissed probationer's allegations that her termination constituted retaliation for exercising her First Amendment rights rejected
Kiehle v. County of Cortland, USCA, 2nd Circuit, Docket #11-3097-cv [Summary Order*]
Kristina Kiehle appealed a federal district court's judgment granting summary judgment to the County of Cortland and three employees of the Cortland County Department of Social Services ("DSS") alleging that she had been terminated from her position as a probationary case worker in retaliation for testifying at a New York State Family Court ("Family Court") hearing.
The Circuit Court of Appeals, after a de novo review, sustained the district court’s granting the County’s motion for summary judgment.
According to the decision, Kiehle had voluntarily testified at a Family Court hearing in which a mother sought to re-obtain custody of her daughter. After introducing herself as a DSS caseworker, Kiehle stated that her conclusions were based on information that she had obtained in the course of her public employment and that “the mother was able to adequately supervise, and was not neglectful of, her children. She then recommended that the child be returned to the mother.
The Circuit Court said that although Kiehle’s position was contrary to DSS’s position in the proceeding, she had not distinguished her personal views from those of DSS. Accordingly it sustained the district court’s conclusion that Kiehle did not testify as a private citizen on a matter of public concern at the Family Court hearing but, rather, she testified as a government employee, i.e., as a DSS caseworker.
Citing Garcetti v Ceballos, 547 U.S. 410, the Circuit Court explained that "[W]hen public employees make statements pursuant to their official duties, the employees are not speaking as citizens for First Amendment purposes, and the Constitution does not insulate their communications from employer discipline."
The Circuit Court set out the following guidelines used by courts in cases where a public employee claims “First Amendment retaliation,” indicating that in order for the employee to prevail, he or she must demonstrate that:
(1) The speech addressed a matter of public concern,
(2) The employee suffered an adverse employment action, and
(3) There was a causal connection existed between the speech and the adverse employment action" such that "speech was a motivating factor in the determination."
The decision is posted on the Internet at:
* Rulings by summary order do not have precedential effect.