Government employees can’t be punished for exercising their First Amendment rights. But that rule has important restrictions. One of those is that, ordinarily, filing an internal grievance isn’t protected speech.
Recent case: Mary Ellen, a Pennsylvania State Police communication operator, tookfor pregnancy and recovery, plus complications from diabetes. After she was placed on leave restrictions, she filed a series of internal grievances alleging that the restrictions violated various laws.
She resigned and sued, claiming that her grievances were protected speech and that she had been forced to resign in retaliation for speaking out on behalf of all law enforcement employees with diabetes who needed accommodations.
Because the “speech” was internal and because the allegations in Mary Ellen’s grievances were run-of-the-mill employment disputes, her activities didn’t rise to the level of public concern. Her case was tossed out. (Condron v. Evenchick, et al., No. 3:10-CV-2506, MD PA, 2013)