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Public employee sounds off, court weighs in: Letter to editor may not be protected speech

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

Government employees are protected from retaliation for speaking out on matters of public importance. That doesn’t mean, however, that every letter to the editor is an exercise in freedom of speech.

Indeed, if the letter is about a specific workplace problem between the employee and a supervisor, chances are a court won’t find that to be a First Amendment issue.

Recent case:
Ellen Brown lost her job as a teacher’s assistant and sued, alleging a variety of discrimination claims.

A court dismissed her claims because she had waited too long to file her suit after receiving an EEOC right-to-sue letter.

She also claimed she had been fired in retaliation for speaking out on matters of public importance. Since First Amendment claims don’t have to go to the EEOC, that part of her lawsuit wasn’t late.

Brown claimed the First Amendment protected a letter she had written to the local paper complaining about the alleged discrimination she had suffered. But the court disagreed after reading the letter. It was nothing more than a rehash of her problems with her supervisor. That’s not speech protected by the Constitution. (Brown v. The Research Foundation of SUNY, No. 08-CV-592, ND NY, 2009)

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