First Amendment Speech

The First Amendment prohibits government employers from penalizing employees for speaking out as private citizens on matters of public concern.

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.

Some examples of government employer conduct that might constitute First Amendment retaliation include:

  • You participate in a peaceful political protest outside of work hours, and your government employer responds by terminating or demoting you;
  • Your government employer terminates you because your supervisor disagreed with political views that you expressed on Facebook or other social media;
  • You express disagreement with a government policy or official, and your government employer responds by terminating or demoting you.

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    If you believe you have been retaliated against by your government employer because of your protected speech, contact attorney Tim Coffield to discuss your rights.