Memo Protesting Cutbacks In Canine Unit Not Protected By First Amendment

In May 2006, in the case of Garcetti v. Ceballos, 126 S.Ct. 1951 (2006), 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.”

As new cases are decided by lower federal and state courts every month, it is apparent that the decision in Garcetti is having a profound effect on the protections given to public employees speaking out about matter concerning the job. The latest example involves former Circleville, Ohio Police Officer David Haynes. Haynes filed a federal court lawsuit alleging that he was fired in retaliation for authoring a memorandum critical of cutbacks in the canine program. In the memorandum, Haynes, a canine officer, expressed the belief that a cutback in canine training would lead to additional liability on the part of the City. The memorandum was written to Circleville’s Police Chief.

A federal appeals court held that the First Amendment offered no protections to Haynes. Citing Garcetti, the Court reasoned that “in lodging his protest to the Chief against the training cutbacks, Haynes was acting as a public employee carrying out his professional responsibilities. Haynes’ speech is therefore unprotected as a matter of law because all of the speech at issue in this case, like the speech in Garcetti, was made pursuant to his official duties.

“As a police officer, Haynes had developed a standard operating procedure for the canine unit and worked with his dog as part of his day-to-day professional activities. His memo to the Chief, made pursuant to these professional duties, is not protected under the First Amendment.”

Haynes v. City of Circleville, Ohio, 2007 WL 174114 (6th Cir. 2007).

This article appears in the May 2007 issue