South-Western Legal Studies in Business

City Employee Has Free Speech and Due Process Rights
Description Appeals court upheld a judgment against a city mayor in a suit brought by an employee who was punished by the mayor for making critical remarks about city administration. The employee has a right to speak on matters of public concern and has due process rights in case of discipline from such actions.
Topic Constitutional Law
Key Words First Amendment; Speech; Public Concern; Employer's Interest; Due Process
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Wainscott worked for the City of Marion, Indiana, Streets and Sanitation Department as Superintendent. He stepped down to a non-supervisory position after a dispute with the mayor. Later, when talking to some citizens while working, he said critical things about the city administration. This was reported to the mayor, who fired Wainscott. When he protested, the punishment was reduced to 45 days without pay and six-months probation, during which he was to make no statements concerning city administration. Wainscott sued for violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The trial court held for Wainscott against the mayor, who appealed.
Decision

Affirmed. A public employee's speech has First Amendment protection if the employee speaks as a citizen upon matters of public concern as it relates to any matter of political, social, or other concern to the community. It is not public concern if it involved a personal grievance of interest only to the employee. Wainscott was denied due process because he was not given notice of the charges or an opportunity to explain his position. He was simply notified of his punishment.

Citation Wainscott v. Henry, 315 F.3d 844 (7th Cir., 2003)

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