Tagged: labor law

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FAN 19.5 (First Amendment News) — Supreme Court Decides Public Employee Speech Case: 1-A Claim Prevails 9-0

The Supreme Court just handed down its opinion in Lane v. Franks.  The vote was unanimous and the opinion for the Court was authored by Justice Sonia Sotomayor.  The opinion can be found here. Justice Clarence Thomas filed a concurring opinion in which Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito joined.

Issues: (1) Whether the government is categorically free under the First Amendment to retaliate against a public employee for truthful sworn testimony that was compelled by subpoena and was not a part of the employee’s ordinary job responsibilities; and (2) whether qualified immunity precludes a claim for damages in such an action.

  1. Held: “The Court holds that Lane’s sworn testimony outside the scope of his ordinary job duties is entitled to First Amendment protection. His testimony was speech as a citizen on a matter of public concern.” (Amy Howe)
  2. The Court also holds that “the individual defendant has qualified immunity from this suit because prior precedent wasn’t clear enough that you could not fire an employee for sworn testimony.” (Tom Goldstein)

Tejinder Singh (Goldstein & Russell) counsel for Petitioner.

Select Excerpts from Majority Opinion

First Amendment Issues

  • Matters of Public Concern & Encouraging Public Employee Speech — “Speech by citizens on matters of public concern lies at the heart of the First Amendment, which “was fashioned to assure unfettered interchange of ideas for the bringing about of political and social changes desired by the people.” This remains true when speech concerns information related to or learned through public employment. After all, public employees do not renounce their citizenship when they accept employment, and this Court has cautioned time and again that public employers may not condition employment on the relinquishment of constitutional rights. . . . There is considerable value, moreover, in encouraging, rather than inhibiting, speech by public employees.”
  • Reserved for a Future Case: “We . . . need not address in this case whether truthful sworn testimony would constitute citizen speech under Garcetti when given as part of a public employee’s ordinary job duties, and express no opinion on the matter today.” (emphasis added)
  • Truth is a Defense: “Truthful testimony under oath by a public employee outside the scope of his ordinary job duties is speech as a citizen for First Amendment purposes. That is so even when the testimony relates to his public employment or concerns information learned during that employment. . . . When the person testifying is a public employee, he may bear separate obligations to his employer—for example, an obligation not to show up to court dressed in an unprofessional manner. But any such obligations as an employee are distinct and independent from the obligation, as a citizen, to speak the truth. That independent obligation renders sworn testi- mony speech as a citizen and sets it apart from speech made purely in the capacity of an employee.”
  • Garcetti Distinguished: “Garcetti said nothing about speech that simply relates to public employment or concerns information learned in the course of public employment. The Garcetti Court made explicit that its holding did not turn on the fact that the memo at issue “concerned the subject matter of [the prosecutor’s] employment,” because “[t]he First Amendment protects some expressions related to the speaker’s job.” In other words, the mere fact that a citizen’s speech concerns information acquired by virtue of his public employment does not transform that speech into employee—rather than citizen—speech.”
  • Key Garcetti Question: “The critical question under Garcetti is whether the speech at issue is itself ordinarily within the scope of an employee’s duties, not whether it merely concerns those duties.
  • Value of Speech by Public Employees: “It bears emphasis that our precedents dating back to Pickering have recognized that speech by public employees on subject matter related to their employment holds special value precisely because those employees gain knowledge of matters of public concern through their employment.”
  • Preventing Corruption: “It would be antithetical to our jurisprudence to conclude that the very kind of speech necessary to prosecute corruption by public officials—speech by public employees regarding information learned through their employment—may never form the basis for a First Amendment retaliation claim. Such a rule would place public employees who witness corruption in an impossible position, torn between the obligation to testify truthfully and the desire to avoid retaliation and keep their jobs.”

Justice Thomas’ Concurrence

  • Limited Application of Garcetti: Deciding this case “requires little more than a straightforward application of Garcetti. There, we held that when a public employee speaks “pursuant to” his official duties, he is not speaking “as a citizen,” and First Amendment protection is unavailable. The petitioner in this case did not speak “pursuant to” his ordinary job duties because his responsibilities did not include testifying in court proceedings, and no party has suggested that he was subpoenaed as a representative of his employer.”
  • Employee Speech re Work-Related Responsibilities: “We accordingly have no occasion to address the quite different question whether a public employee speaks “as a citizen” when he testifies in the course of his ordinary job responsibilities. For some public employees—such as police officers, crime scene techni- cians, and laboratory analysts—testifying is a routine and critical part of their employment duties. Others may be called to testify in the context of particular litigation as the designated representatives of their employers.” 
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Stanford Law Review Online: The 2011 Basketball Lockout

Stanford Law Review

The Stanford Law Review Online has just published an Essay by William B. Gould IV entitled The 2011 Basketball Lockout: The Union Lives to Fight Another Day—Just Barely. Gould, a former chairman of the National Labor Relations Board, provides a succinct postmortem on the 2011 lockout:

The backdrop for the 2011 negotiations was the economic weapon once regarded as a dirty word in the lexicon of American labor-management relations—the lockout. This economic weaponry, endorsed by the Supreme Court since 1965, became the flavor of the two prior decades; baseball flirted with it in 1990, basketball in 1995 and 1999. One of hockey’s lockouts even resulted in the cancellation of the entire 2004-05 season. The lockout again was utilized in 2011 by recently peaceable football as well as by basketball. The owners gravitated towards the lockout tactic because in the event of strike (protesting changes in conditions in employment, which proved ineffective), players who crossed the union picket line could play and still sue in antitrust simultaneously. The lockout put more pressure on the players to settle. . . . The union now was represented by David Boies, who had only a few months before represented the NFL and successfully deprived that union of its only effective antitrust remedy—i.e., an injunction against the lockout, which would have required the owners to open the camps in early summer. Thus the basketball union now would not pursue the injunction remedy, notwithstanding the persuasiveness of Judge Bye’s dissenting opinion in the football case. Of course, Boies would have met himself coming around the corner if he argued for it in basketball.

He concludes:

Nonetheless, even though the union was stripped of its most effective antitrust remedy, litigation seems to have moved the parties together. It most certainly called the NBA’s bluff, in that the league’s regressive or inferior option was quickly forgotten. True, the NBA obtained givebacks that are estimated to be worth more than $300 million. Not only did it win on revenue sharing with the players—the players will possess between 49% and 51% as opposed to 57%—but more stringent luxury tax penalties for violators also have been instituted. As National Basketball Players Association Executive Director Billy Hunter said, the latter element constitutes the “harshest element of the new system.” At the same time, guaranteed contracts were preserved, restricted free agents will benefit from the reduction of the so-called “match period” when teams may match competing offers from seven to three days, which may encourage bidding on these players. The cap remains soft in that the so-called incumbent “Bird” players (named for Celtics superstar Larry Bird) may exceed the cap and have more expansive increases and lengths of contracts than other players. A so-called “amnesty” for bad contracts was permitted, in that even though the contracts must be paid, a player on each club may be waived and his salary not counted towards his team’s cap. What appeared to be a rout of the players in November emerged as a reasonable face-saving compromise.

Read the full article, The 2011 Basketball Lockout: The Union Lives to Fight Another Day—Just Barely by William B. Gould IV, at the Stanford Law Review Online.

Note: Updated quotation.