Seventh Circuit Finds that Public Employee’s Termination Did Not Violate First Amendment

On May 18, 2010, the Seventh Circuit found that a public employee’s critical comments of his department did not implicate the First Amendment notwithstanding that they resulted in his termination.  Ogden v. Atterholt, et al.The Court found that the comments were made in the performance of the employee’s professional duties and not as a consequence of his rights as a citizen.  The Court based its decision on Garcetti v. Ceballos, where the United States Supreme Court found that public employers are permitted to exercise a significant amount of control over their employee’s words and conduct.  The Ogden court found that the speech at issue sought to implement changes within his department, in contrast to voicing concerns as a private citizen.  As the court found, “Garcettimade clear that public employees speaking pursuant to their official duties are speaking as employees, not citizens, and thus are not protected by the First Amendment regardless of the content of their speech.”

The court’s opinion is a straightforward application of Garcetti, a necessary case for anyone representing public employees to be aware of.

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