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Memo About Moldy Police Station Not Constitutionally Protected

Gerald Olbek was the deputy chief of the Wildwood Police Department in Florida. After a series of events that included a fire at the Department’s station, Olbek became concerned that the station had a serious mold problem. Olbek wrote a memo detailing the mold issues. The memo cited the fact that numerous employees had com­plained of health conditions related to mold and that the City had tried to remedy…

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Deputy Fired After Supporting Husband’s Losing Campaign For Sheriff

Sabrina Tice began working for the Sheriff’s Department in Lincoln County, Oklahoma as a full-time deputy in 2012. Charlie Dougherty was the elected Sheriff. Tice’s husband, John Tice, also worked as a deputy with the Department. In 2015, Mr. Tice was indicted on criminal charges related to an alleged excessive use of force. Given the charges, the Department terminated Mr. Tice’s employment. Tice was unhappy about the termination decision…

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Constitution Protects Against ‘Compelled Speech’

Michael Gala is a Deputy Assistant Chief with the Fire Department of New York (FDNY). On May 18, 2020, Gala met with Chief of Department John Sudnik and Chief of Fire Operations Thomas Richardson and was informed that he would be promoted to Assistant Chief of Department on May 23. However, Chief Sudnik explained that the Fire Commissioner wanted Gala to send an email, recanting opinions that he had…

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SWAT Sniper Entitled To Jury Trial In Facebook Case

You know a court’s opinion will be anything but run-of-the-mill when it begins: “Social media has allowed Americans to connect with friends in far-flung places and to share their opinions on topics both mundane and momentous. But social media can also tempt people to impulsively make inflammatory comments that they later regret. And even worse for them, employers often react by firing or punishing them for their ill-advised remarks….

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Houston District Fire Chief Loses Social Media Case

Steven Dunbar, a District Chief for the Houston Fire Department (HFD), made a post in a private social media group for HFD firefighters in July 2019. Discussing a transfer opportunity HFD had posted the month before, he wrote: “If you are thinking about putting in for a spot in District 64 on C-shift you better have your sh** together. Wanna play games like previously-assigned members? You will be miserable…promise.”…

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Federal Court Upholds Facebook Discipline

Ariel Lindsay has been a Cook County, Illinois deputy sheriff since2004, and was assigned to the Court Services Unit in the Criminal Courts Building in Chicago. From July 6, 2016, through July 8, 2016, Lindsay made several posts to her Facebook account. Those posts referenced the July 2016 shooting of police officers in Dallas, Texas, and the public sentiment towards law enforcement officers. When she made her posts, Lindsay…

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Reporting Corruption Not Protected By First Amendment

Detective John Butcher of Saginaw County, Michigan seized $22,583 in cash from Pierre Najjar during a narcotics investigation. When Najjar agreed to pay the Sheriff’s Department the money seized from him in lieu of entering formal civil forfeiture proceedings, Butcher delivered the money to Garrett DeWyse, the Department’s property and evidence room manager. A few weeks later, Butcher asked DeWyse to release $2,000 of the funds to pay for…

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EMS Captain’s Facebook Post May Be Constitutionally Protected

Jamie Marquardt was a captain with City of Cleveland’s Department of Emergency Medical Services. Marquardt had a “private” Facebook page which did not identify him as a City employee. A little more than a year after a Cleveland police officer shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice, a post appeared on Marquardt’s Facebook page: “Let me be the first on record to have the balls to say Tamir Rice should…

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Refusal To Amend Report Not Constitutionally Protected

Kelvin Lett was an investigator for Chicago’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability, a municipal office tasked with reviewing allegations of police misconduct. In 2016, Lett was working on an investigation into police involvement in a civilian shooting. The office’s Chief Administrator, Sharon Fairley, directed him to include in the report a finding that police officers had planted a gun on the victim of the shooting. Lett refused because he…

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Firefighter’s ‘Clueless Idiots’ Comment Not Protected By First Amendment

Larry Moreau, Jr., was a captain with the St. Landry Fire Protection District No. 3 in Louisiana. In May 2017, Moreau was accused of refusing to participate in a fire training exercise. At a pre-disciplinary hearing before the District’s Board, Moreau explained that he did not participate because of an on-the-job injury that he failed to report. The Board voted to issue Moreau a formal letter of reprimand, but…

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Advising Fellow Officer About Running For Office Protected By First Amendment

Bill Williams is a sergeant in the Allentown, Pennsylvania Police Department. Williams commanded the Youth Division, where he was responsible for developing public programs for the City’s youth and improving recruitment efforts for the police force. In January 2017, one of Williams’ co-workers in the Youth Division approached him off duty, seeking advice on whether he could run for political office. The co-worker told Williams that he was considering…

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Firefighter Fired For Refusing Vaccination, Accommodation

Brett Horvath was employed as a driver/pump operator by the City of Leander Fire Department in Texas. Horvath is an ordained Baptist minister and objects to vaccinations as a tenet of his religion. In 2014, two years after he was hired, the Department adopted an infection control plan that directed fire department personnel to receive flu vaccines. Horvath sought an exemption from the directive on religious grounds, and the…

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Officer’s Firing For Facebook Posts Upheld

Anthony Venable, who had been an officer with the Metropolitan Nashville and Davidson County Police Department (MNPD) since 2007, engaged in a Facebook conversation regarding the shooting of Philando Castile in Minnesota. At the time, Venable was off-duty and the shooting had happened just the day before. During the course of the conversation, Venable posted a number of comments, including: “Yeah, I would have done 5,” in response to…

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Sergeant’s $1.9 Million Verdict Reduced To $2,700

Pennsylvania State Police Sergeant David Holt II filed suit against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and four of his supervisors. Holt alleged multiple instances of race discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, and contrary to the guarantees of the Equal Protection Clause and the First Amendment. A jury returned a partial verdict, thereby necessitating a second trial. Holt prevailed on several of…

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Officer’s Discipline For Text Message Upheld

On April 27, 2017, Cleveland Police Officer Sean Gorman received a call to go to a Cleveland strip club. He texted Officer Aaron Petitt to ask for help. The following exchange of messages ensued: “Gorman: Stop down to hustler apparently there are some middle eastern types giving people a hard time we are in route.Petitt: Packing up. Be there soon.Gorman: Take your time.Gorman: Sorry for bothering you SirPetitt: Never…

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As ‘Experience Is The Best Teacher,’ State Can Set Requirements For Sheriff Candidacy

To be elected county sheriff in California, a person must meet certain law enforcement experience and education requirements set forth in the state’s government code. In 2018, local business owner Bruce Boyer filed a candidate application to be placed on the ballot for Ventura County Sheriff in an upcoming primary election, Boyer did not have the experience required by the statute. When the county clerk refused to place his…

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Cooperation With FBI Protected By First Amendment

On January 4, 2012, four members of the Hillview, Kentucky Police Department – James Barrow, Leo Cook, Police Chief Glenn Caple and Kenneth Straughn – went to the home of Mayor James Eadens after Eadens reported suspicious activity on his property. Eadens was not home when the officers arrived, but his son Allen was there. While looking around the yard, Straughn found a backpack tucked inside a tire behind…

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Speech About Firefighter’s Fitness Not Constitutionally Protected

Dr. Nancy King worked under contract for Polk County, Florida and for fifteen years was the primary person responsible for determining whether firefighter applicants were medically qualified. Ordinarily, King would rely on a national standard known as NFPA 1582 to determine if the candidate was capable of performing the tasks of a firefighter. She would then make a recommendation to the County. King’s lawsuit revolved around one applicant, “J,”…

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Firing Of Former Sheriff’s Wife Does Not Violate The First Amendment

Tamela Muir, Bert Muir, and Ben Boswell worked for the Decatur County Sheriff’s Office (DCSO) in Iowa. Tamela began working for the DCSO in November 1996 as a jailer and dispatcher. Her employment was at-will. Bert started working for the DCSO on March 19, 1998, when he was elected Sheriff. He hired Boswell as a Deputy Sheriff in September 2001. Tamela and Bert were married in January 2008, and…

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Testimony In Court Not Always Constitutionally Protected

With the Supreme Court’s 2014 decision in Lane v. Franks, some believed that a firm rule had been established that the off-duty testimony in court by a public employee was absolutely constitutionally protected by the First Amendment, and could not be the basis for discipline. A recent decision from the federal Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals shows that the lower courts are not giving such an expansive reading to…

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Fire Department’s Email Policy Violates First Amendment

Jonathan Sprague served as a firefighter, and eventually as a captain, for the Spokane Valley Fire Department (SVFD) in Washington. During his employment, Sprague and other SVFD employees formed the Spokane County Christian Firefighter Fellowship. Sprague created a list of work email addresses for 46 firefighters that he believed were interested in the Fellowship’s activities. Sprague began using SVFD’s email system to send emails about the Fellowship’s activities. SVFD’s…

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‘Quintessential Employee Beef’ Not Protected By First Amendment

Scottie Bagi and Gary Vojtush are firefighters and medics for the City of Parma, Ohio. The Department maintains a Tactical Emergency Medical Specialist (TEMS) unit consisting of specially trained firefighter medics who provide emergency medical support to the city police department’s SWAT team in high-risk situations. In the event of an injury, TEMS unit members treat the police first, then innocent bystanders, then criminals. In 2011, Bagi drafted a…

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No First Amendment Protection For Safety Complaint Made Through Chain Of Command

As far as the public sector workplace is concerned, Garcetti v. Ceballos, 547 U.S. 410 (2006) is without doubt the most impactful constitutional law case in the last several decades. In Garcetti, the Supreme Court changed years of jurisprudence by holding that if a public employee engages in speech arising out of his/her job, the speech has no free speech protections. Hundreds of lower court opinions have followed in…

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Chief’s Secretary’s Affidavit Not Protected Speech

Firma Helget worked for the City of Hays, Kansas, as the administrative secretary for the Hays Police Department. One of Helget’s official duties was to act as the Department’s purchasing agent. In November 2010, she prepared a list of officers who were due new ballistic vests in the upcoming year. Helget presented the list to then-Assistant Police Chief Philip Hartsfield, who instructed her to remove Officer Blaine Dryden from…

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Firefighter Loses Job Over Family Dispute Between Supervisors

Glen Naghtin was a firefighter for the Montague, Michigan Fire Department. Two brothers, Donald and Dennis Roesler, also worked for the Department. Donald was a unit captain and Dennis was the Fire Chief. In 2009, the Fire District’s Board authorized the construction of a new fire station. After construction had commenced, Donald Roesler began expressing concerns about the structure, including numerous fire-code violations and deviations from the station’s planned…

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