Affair Is Not Matter Of Public Concern

David Lightfoot was a police officer in the Town of Prosper, Texas from 2002 until December 2010. In 1999, Lightfoot married Amy Bockes, the administrative assistant to the Police Chief. Bockes later began to have an affair with Assistant Chief Gary McHone.

When Lightfoot learned of the affair, he went to the Chief to address it. The affair, however, continued, and the working situation between all of the parties became increasingly strained. Lightfoot, suffering from stress and anxiety, began to have problems with his performance at work.

In December 2010, Lightfoot and Bockes had a confrontation at the office. Following the incident, McHone and the Chief confronted Lightfoot regarding the exchange and notified him they would be conducting a fact-finding mission to determine what happened. The City then placed Lightfoot on “termination leave” and told him he could either resign or his employment would be terminated. The City also insisted that Lightfoot sign a confidentiality agreement regarding the affair, but Lightfoot refused. Lightfoot then resigned from his position. He later obtained employment with the Northlake Police Department.

Lightfoot went on to seek a position with the McKinney Police Department. When the McKinney Police Department declined to hire him, Lightfoot requested and obtained an internal memorandum that outlined the reasons he was not hired. Within the memorandum were allegations that although Lightfoot’s application stated that he was not the subject of any lawsuits, McHone had filed a lawsuit against Lightfoot alleging defamation. Also in the memorandum was an allegation that Lightfoot had lied to Bockes about fathering a child prior to their marriage.

Lightfoot sued the City, Bockes and McHone, alleging that he “voiced opposition to the hostile work environment and the offensive, discriminatory practices perpetrated by the Chief, McHone, and Bockes by expressing his concern to McHone, the Chief and City Council members.” Lightfoot contended that his speech was protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.

A federal trial court rejected Lightfoot’s free speech claim. The Court observed that Lightfoot was required to prove that his “speech” was a matter of public interest. The Court concluded that “Lightfoot has not alleged any facts that would support a retaliation claim based on a violation of his First Amendment rights. Lightfoot’s speech concerned only the personal relationships between himself, McHone, Bockes, and the Chief. Lightfoot did not state any facts that would suggest misconduct or mismanagement within the Prosper Police Department. Lightfoot’s speech did not involve more than the fact of an employee’s employment grievance. Further, Lightfoot did not allege that the affair about which he complained was prohibited by any police department policies. Accordingly, Lightfoot’s free speech claim must be dismissed with prejudice.”

Lightfoot v. Town of Prosper, 2013 WL 4049001 (E.D. Tex. 2013).