First Amendment Protects Public Employees for Sworn Testimony Given Outside Scope of Regular Job Duties on Matters of Public Concern

by Best Best & Krieger LLP
Contact

U.S. Supreme Court Makes Unanimous Ruling in Lane v. Franks

The First Amendment protects a public employee from adverse employment action taken in retaliation for providing truthful sworn testimony, compelled by subpoena, outside the course of the employee’s ordinary job responsibilities, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a unanimous decision.

The case arose from a corruption scandal involving Community Intensive Training for Youth, a program for underprivileged youth operated by Central Alabama Community College. Edward Lane was CITY’s director. While conducting an audit of CITY’s expenses, Lane discovered that Suzanne Schmitz, an Alabama state representative on CITY’s payroll, had not been reporting for work. Lane terminated Schmitz’ employment.

Federal authorities later indicted Schmitz on charges of mail fraud and theft. Lane testified under subpoena regarding the events that led to his terminating Schmitz. Schmitz was convicted and sentenced to 30 months in prison. CACC’s president, Steve Franks, then terminated Lane in a claimed effort to address financial difficulties within the CITY program.

Lane sued Franks in his individual and official capacities under 42 USC section 1983, alleging that Franks violated the First Amendment by firing him in retaliation for testifying against Schmitz. The Eleventh Circuit held that Lane’s testimony was not entitled to First Amendment protection, and affirmed the trial court’s summary judgment for Franks. The Supreme Court granted certiorari to resolve what it perceived as discord among the Courts of Appeal.

The Court applied the balancing framework articulated in Pickering v. Board of Education to weigh the interests of the employee, as a citizen, in commenting upon matters of public concern against those of the State, as an employer, in promoting the efficiency of its public services. The Court noted that its previous holding in Garcetti v. Ceballos distinguished between “employee speech” and “citizen speech” in public employment. Garcetti held that the First Amendment does not insulate public employees from employer discipline for statements made pursuant to their official duties.

Lane’s situation, the Court reasoned, was different. The giving of truthful testimony under oath was protected “citizen speech” because it was outside the scope of his normal job duties — even though the testimony related to his public employment and information he derived from that employment. The Court further opined that Lane’s testimony involved a matter of significant public concern: corruption in a public program and misuse of state funds.

The Court found that CACC had not come close to filling the employer’s side of the Pickering scale. CACC presented no evidence that Lane’s testimony was false, disclosed sensitive information, or otherwise justified treating Lane differently than any other member of the public. Thus, the Court held that Lane’s “citizen speech” was entitled to First Amendment protection.

The Court went on to decide that the claims against Franks in his individual capacity should be dismissed based on qualified immunity. The Court concluded that conflicting legal precedents among the Courts of Appeal did not preclude Franks from holding a reasonable belief that CACC could fire Lane for testifying in the criminal proceeding against Schmitz. The Court ruled, however, that Lane had a viable section 1983 claim against Franks and his successor in their official capacities and remanded the case to the lower court for further proceedings.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Best Best & Krieger LLP | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Best Best & Krieger LLP
Contact
more
less

Best Best & Krieger LLP on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):
hide

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.

Security

JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.