SCOTUS: Can't fire public employee for testifying under subpoena

Employee "spoke as a citizen on a matter of public concern." As I predicted [here], the US Supreme Court held that a public employee who testifies in court (at least when that's not part of his normal job duties) has 1st amendment protection against being fired for giving that testimony. This is true even though the testimony involved things the employee learned in the course of his employment. Lane v. Franks (US Supreme Court 06/19/2014).

What I did not predict was that the Court was unanimous on this issue.

The reasoning is really pretty simple.

  • Sworn testimony in judicial proceedings is a quintessential example of citizen speech.
  • The speech itself was not part of the employee's job duties, and it doesn't matter that the speech concerned things the employee learned on the job.
  • The speech involved "a matter of public concern" in that it involved corruption in a public program and misuse of state funds.
  • The employer had nothing on its side of the ledger. No evidence that the testimony was false or erroneous. No showing that confidential information was unnecessarily disclosed.

Oh, Yes. Qualified immunity.

I also predicted [here] that the Court would grant qualified immunity to the official that did the firing. This is for the simple reason that the law was not then clear in his federal Circuit.

[For a list of current employment law cases, see Supreme Court Watch.]