Public employees have some workplace protections based on constitutional rights to free speech and association. But those rights don’t extend to the right to be part of a co-worker clique.
Recent case: Several school district employees were very friendly with Mable, a school principal. Mable was accused of taking school property during a move from one school to another. The co-workers who had helped her pack up her belongings and move them to the new location were implicated, repeatedly questioned—and threatened with termination if they didn’t cooperate.
They sued, alleging associational discrimination, claiming they had been punished for being closely associated with Mable.
The court didn’t buy it. The Constitution protects intimate familial relationships, not co-worker cliques. (Caleb, et al., c. Grier, et al., No. 13-20582, 5th Cir., 2014)