Officer’s Speech About Alleged Affair Not Constitutionally Protected

In Garcetti v. Ceballos, 547 U.S. 410 (2006), the Supreme Court held that if a public employee engages in speech “pursuant to job duties,” then the speech is unprotected by the First Amendment’s free speech guarantees. As the Supreme Court held, “the First Amendment protects a public employee’s right, in certain circumstances, to speak as a citizen addressing matters of public concern. It is well established, however, that a public employee speaking in his official capacity is not speaking as a citizen for First Amendment purposes.”

A New York police officer learned first-hand the broad sweep of the Garcetti rule when the federal Second Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed his lawsuit against his employer. Brian Platt had worked for the Village of Southampton. He was fired after he decided to report an allegedly improper relationship between then-Police Lt. William Wilson, Jr. and Seasonal Police Officer Kim McMahon. Platt discussed his concerns with Village Trustee Harald Steudte.

The Court found that, to the extent Platt’s conversation with Steudte raised issues of public concern, those issues related solely to his work as a police officer and the adverse impact of Lt. Wilson’s relationship with Officer McMahon on public safety concerns in Southampton. “We cannot say that a police officer speaking to a public official about his concerns over public safety issues is speaking in his capacity as a citizen, as opposed to his capacity as a police officer.”

Platt v. Incorporated Village of Southampton, 2010 WL 3393738 (2d Cir. 2010).

This article appears in the December 2010 issue