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Public employees and the right to free speech

Two Indiana employees are suing the city and the mayor of the city for which they were employed over what they refer to as a retaliatory discharge from their employment after 2011. These two employees suggest that the discharge was unconstitutional because the two employees were fired for expressing political opposition to certain positions held by the mayor.

One of the women fired was a 32-year employee with the city, and the other was a 22.5-year employee. Both had worked with the mayor during his first term as mayor from 2004 to 2007, but both employees then campaigned for the mayor's opponent in 2007 and again in 2011.

At question in the lawsuit is whether the termination was based upon the employees political association, speech and activity which they assert is a violation of their 1st Amendment rights. It is alleged that the mayor pledged he would remove all Democrats that didn't support him back in 2007 if he was to win re-election.

The mayor lost the re-election in 2007, but he did win his election bid in 2011 and once again became mayor. The employees finally contend that at no time was their job performance ever criticized, despite any political differences they may have had with the mayor.

Whether the allegations do or do not have merit depend on what the jury believes if this matter actually does go to trial. However, such a lawsuit is complicated because we are speaking of public employees. Whether public employees can be treated differently from private employees can be in some circumstances a matter of law, and all such employees involved in employment disputes would be strongly advised to consult with an employment attorney to determine what those differences would be.

Source: The Herald Bulletin, "Two former employees sue city, Anderson mayor," by Stephen Dick, March 18, 2012

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