Citation. 22 Ill.461 U.S. 138, 103 S. Ct. 1684, 75 L. Ed. 2d 708, 1 IER Cases 178 (1983)
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Brief Fact Summary.
The Respondent, Sheila Myers (Respondent), brought suit after she was terminated from her employment with the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s office, contending wrongful discharge because she, as a public employee, had exercised her constitutionally protected right of free speech.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
While it is accepted that a State cannot condition public employment such that it affects the individual employee’s rights to freedom of expression, it does not follow that every termination of a public employee for a work-related disagreement is an infringement on that right.
The Respondent was employed as an Assistant District Attorney (ADA) in New Orleans, serving under the Petitioner, Harry Connick (Petitioner), the elected District Attorney. In 1980, the Respondent was informed that she would be transferred to another section of the criminal court, but she did not accept the transfer. Instead, the Respondent conferred with another ADA and of her own accord, composed a questionnaire, which solicited the views of her fellow staff members. After she began distributing the survey, the Petitioner returned to the office, where he told the Respondent that she was being terminated due to her refusal to accept the transfer and the act of insubordination caused by her questionnaire. Respondent brought suit in the Eastern District of Louisiana, contending that she was terminated due to her exercise of free speech. The District Court agreed and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Affirmed. The Petitioner brought his Petition to the Supreme Court of the Unit
ed States (Supreme Court) and was granted certiorari.
The issue in this case is whether a State employee can claim wrongful termination when she expresses her views on a work-related disagreement with her boss.
Justice Byron White (J. White). Reversed.
The Supreme Court held that while a public employee cannot be terminated for speaking its views on matters of public concern, in this case, Respondents’ questions were not public concern, but, rather, illuminations of her personal work-related dispute.
The Supreme Court also noted that Petitioner’s assessment that Respondents’ questionnaire was insubordination should be given latitude, because close working relationships are essential to fulfilling public duties and a questionnaire such as this can have the undesirable affect of breaking down those relationships.
Justice William Brennan (J. Brennan) dissented, noting that the Supreme Court’s decision will have a deterrent affect on public employees who wish to make critical statements about the manner in which the agencies they work for are operated.
Public employees are afforded great protection of their First Amendment constitutional rights, when they express themselves on matters of public concern. However, this does not extend to expressions of disdain for personal, work-related matters.