Public employees have the right to speak their minds on matters of public importance without punishment. However, that right is clearly limited.
A public employee can’t claim that free speech includes the right to use derogatory terms at work.
Recent case: When William, who is white, used the term “you people” while addressing black co-workers, he was written up for the incident. Later, he sued, alleging that as a public employee he had the right to use the term in the workplace as part of his right to free speech.
The court rejected his argument. Using a potentially derogatory term, especially when applied to black co-workers, wasn’t protected speech. To qualify, the speech must concern matters of public importance. Slurs don’t make that cut. (Farquhar v. Steen, et al., No. 14-50938, 5th Cir., 2015)