First Amendment topicsAbout the First Amendment
News Story
 
Garcetti strikes again: Ill. officer loses retaliation suit

By David L. Hudson Jr.
First Amendment scholar
06.01.07

A federal appeals court has rejected an Aurora, Ill., police investigator's retaliation lawsuit, ruling he has no First Amendment claim because his speech was job-related within the meaning of a 2006 U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Martin Sigsworth, a career officer, participated in a multi-jurisdictional task force formed to investigate gang activity. After a botched raid, Sigsworth became convinced that key targets of the raid had been tipped off in some capacity by somebody associated with the task force. He reported his suspicions to his chief of police, who told him to remain silent about his suspicions. A short time later, Sigsworth was removed from the task force and the related investigation. He also was denied a desired promotion to sergeant.

Sigsworth sued, claiming that he was retaliated against for speaking out against possible government corruption. A federal district court dismissed his claim, finding that he spoke more as an employee than as a citizen when he made the allegations. On appeal, a three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on May 25 affirmed in Sigsworth v. City of Aurora.

The legal hurdle that Sigsworth could not clear was the Supreme Court’s decision in Garcetti v. Ceballos. In Garcetti, the Court ruled 5-4 that public employees generally do not have First Amendment protection for speech made at work pursuant to their official job duties. Before Garcetti, the courts would ask whether the employee’s speech addressed a matter of public importance — called public concern — and then balanced the employee’s free-speech interests against the employer’s interests in an efficient, undisrupted workplace.

The 7th Circuit noted that “Garcetti requires that before analyzing whether an employee’s speech is of public concern, a court must determine whether the employee was speaking ‘as a citizen’ or, by contrast, pursuant to his duties as a public employee.” The court reasoned that Sigsworth spoke as an employee when he spoke about possible corruption.

“Because Sigworth’s speech was part of the tasks he was employed to perform, he spoke not as a citizen but as a public employee, and that speech is not entitled to protection by the First Amendment,” the appeals court panel wrote.

“The 7th Circuit really had no choice but to rule the way it did,” said Sigsworth’s attorney, John P. DeRose. “The allegations made by my client were of very serious misconduct that jeopardized the safety of officers and the public. It is a sad state of affairs that an officer who spoke about such wrongdoing has no recourse and can be retaliated against without any recourse. But, that is the reach of Garcetti.


Related

High court curbs whistleblower lawsuits

By 5-4 vote, justices say nation's 20 million public employees don't have carte blanche right to disclose government's inner workings. 05.30.06

7th Circuit overturns damages for Wis. whistleblowers
Jury had awarded two Milwaukee police officers $170,000 who contended they were demoted after sparking investigation into police officials. 07.18.07

N.H. high court backs fired city assessor
Justices rule Claremont violated Steven Snelling's rights when it dismissed him in part because of comments he made in newspaper article. 07.23.07

Ex-professor can't sue Del. State University
Wendell Gorum had claimed he was fired in retaliation for exercising his free speech, but federal judge rules he had no First Amendment claim because he was acting as public employee. 02.18.08

Head-scratching follows Garcetti ruling
By Tony Mauro Will government employees now go public with complaints, rather than to supervisors? 05.31.06

Garcetti's palpable effect on public-employee speech
By David L. Hudson Jr. Supreme Court's ruling successfully invoked as agencies defend against critics from within. 05.29.07

7th Circuit: High court ruling chills protections for ex-cop's speech
By David L. Hudson Jr. Appeals court's decision to reverse jury's verdict shows reach of Garcetti. 06.25.08

Public employee speech

News summary page
View the latest news stories throughout the First Amendment Center Online.

print this   Print


Last system update: Wednesday, August 20, 2008 | 22:56:39
 SEARCH  MORE
About this site
About the First Amendment
About the First Amendment Center
Video/RSS/podcasts
First Amendment programs
State of the First Amendment
reports

First Reports
Supreme Court
Experts
Columnists
First Amendment publications
First Amendment Center history
Glossary
Freedom Sings™
Events
First Amendment
Schools

Congressional Research Service reports
Guest editorials
FOI material
The First Amendment
Library

Lesson plans
freedomforum.org
Newseum
Contact us
Privacy statement
Related links