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September 10, 2012

School district did not violate alleged whistleblower’s First Amendment free speech rights


School district did not violate alleged whistleblower’s First Amendment free speech rights
Ross v The Katonah-Lewisboro Union Free School District, USCA, 2nd Circuit, Docket No. 10-5275-cv

The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, ruled that a former school district employee’s First Amendment right to free speech was not violated because her speech was uttered in the context of her official duties in contrast to speech uttered in her personal capacity.

In the words of the court: “because Ross was speaking pursuant to her official duties and not as a private citizen, her speech was not protected by the First Amendment.”

The Circuit Court explained: “In the First Amendment context, ‘the State has interests as an employer in regulating the speech of its employees that differ significantly from those it possesses in connection with regulation of the speech of the citizenry in general,’" citing Pickering v. Bd. of Educ. of Twp. High Sch. Dist. 205, 391 U.S. 563. Speech by a public employee, said the court, is protected by the First Amendment only when the employee is speaking “as a citizen . . . on a matter of public concern.”

In Garcetti v. Ceballos, 547 U.S. 410, the Supreme Court held that “when 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 individual had contended that she had been wrongfully terminated because she had exercised her First Amendment right to free speech in reporting alleged financial misfeasance to the school superintendent and the school board.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

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