Management & Labor

Supreme Court: Public Employees Protected When Exposing Corruption

June 20, 2014
 

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Thursday that public employees are protected from retaliation when they testify in court about misconduct they observed on the job, a decision important to millions of government workers.

Public employees who are called to testify are protected by the First Amendment just as other citizens are and should not have to choose between “the obligation to testify truthfully and the desire to avoid retaliation and keep their jobs,” wrote Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

The decision clarified previous rulings in which the court has said that public employees have free-speech rights when they are acting as citizens, not when they are testifying about what they learned in their jobs or are required to speak because of their specific duties.

The justices said lower courts had read those decisions too broadly.

“The mere fact that a citizen’s speech concerns information acquired by virtue of his public employment does not transform that speech into employee — rather than citizen — speech,” Sotomayor wrote.

Stephen Kohn, executive director of the National Whistleblower Center, said the ruling “will have a direct and major impact on the willingness of public employees to expose corruption in government.”

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