The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees citizens the right to free speech and prohibits the government from interfering with that right.
In the employment context, this means the First Amendment prohibits federal, state, and local governments from retaliating against their employees for exercising their freedom of speech. Not all speech, however, is protected from retaliation. For a government employee’s speech to be protected by the First Amendment, the employee must be speaking as a private citizen on matters of public concern. If that is the case, the employee has engaged in “protected speech.” And unless the government has adequate justification, the government employer cannot terminate or penalize the employee for protected speech.
If a government employer terminates or penalizes an employee because of the employee’s protected speech, and the government lacks adequate justification for the decision, the employee may bring a claim for First Amendment retaliation.