In Burough of Duryea v. Guarnieri, one of several important rulings issued this week, the United States Supreme Court limited retaliation claims by public employees under the Petition Clause of the First Amendment to cases in which the employee’s petition relates to matter of “public concern.”
The First Amendment provides that “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or of the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” The last clause, known as the “Petition Clause,” has been interpreted to prohibit the government from taking adverse action against an individual merely because the individual sought access to the courts for the resolution of a legal dispute.
In this case, plaintiff Charles Guarnieri was employed as Chief of Police of the borough of Duryea, a small town in Northern Pennsylvania. After his employment was terminated, Guarnieri filed a union grievance challenging his termination. Guarnieri’s grievance proceeded to arbitration, and the arbitrator ordered Guarnieri reinstated after a disciplinary suspension. Following his reinstatement, Guarnieri complained that the borough council retaliated against him for filing his grievance by issuing 11 directives instructing him on the performance of his duties. For example, the council instructed Guarnieri that he was not to work overtime without the council’s express permission, that his police car was to be used only for official business, and that smoking was not permitted anywhere in the municipal building, including the police department.
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