PHA Didn't Retaliate Against Temp Worker
Facts: A local PHA hired a temporary maintenance mechanic. The man was assigned to work under a supervisor, and his project was to install shower stalls in public housing in East St. Louis, Ill. While working on the shower-installation project, the mechanic complained to co-workers about the shoddy workmanship of various housing authority employees working on the project.
Approximately seven months later, the mechanic met with the PHA's human resources coordinator and was informed that his employment was terminated at his supervisor's recommendation due to his poor workmanship on the shower-stall installation project. The mechanic sued the PHA for alleged deprivations of his First Amendment rights. He claimed that his termination was in retaliation for his criticisms of the execution of the shower-stall installation project. The PHA asked the court for a judgment in its favor without a trial.
Ruling: A Louisiana district court granted the PHA's request.
Reasoning: In retaliation cases, according to the precedent followed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, an individual can prevail on a First Amendment retaliation claim only if he or she was speaking as a citizen, not as a public employee, when he or she was engaged in the speech at issue. According to the court, when public employees make statements pursuant to their official duties, the employees are not speaking as citizens for First Amendment purposes, and the Constitution doesn't insulate their communications from employer discipline. The court stated that its precedents don't support the existence of a constitutional cause of action behind every statement a public employee makes in the course of doing his or her job. Here, the court found that the mechanic was speaking in his capacity as a public employee, not as a private citizen. Therefore, his criticism of the way in which the project was being executed wasn't protected by the First Amendment and his retaliation claim fails.
Jenkins v. East St. Louis Housing Authority, May 2012