FREE SPEECH/WHISTLEBLOWER PROTECTION — As professional crime-fighters, cops have no First Amendment protection when they inform their superiors of crime and corruption, notes a human resources specialist for BusinessManagementDaily.com. But they may still have some remedy for employer retaliation under California's Whistleblower Protection Act.
Public employees retain the right to free speech under the First
Amendment and cant be punished for exercising that right. However, the
right is limited when the speech theyre using is part of their jobs. For example, public employees whose work involves fighting corruption
cant claim that the memos and reports they write at work are free
speechthe equivalent of a citizen speaking out on important public
issues. Their writings are part of the job.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has recently concluded that for
California police officers, free speech protection may be even more
limited.Ron Huppert and Javier Salgado both
worked as police officers for the East Bay city of Pittsburg. Huppert
temporarily worked for the Contra Costa County District Attorneys
Office, assisting with its investigation of alleged corruption. During
that time, he claims, his Pittsburg Police Department supervisors
treated him with scorn and as an outcast.
Later, Huppert helped the FBI on an investigation involving alleged police department corruption. Eventually, the police department transferred him to an office
converted from a tiny bathroom, a move he claimed was in retaliation
for speaking out against corruption to the FBI and the district
Salgado was Hupperts partner and worked with him on a report ordered
by their supervisor on alleged illegal drug activity by other police
officers. The supervisor then pulled them off the assignment, but
another supervisor told them to complete their work. Salgado was
transferred along with Huppert. He also sued, alleging helike his partnerhad engaged in protected free speech and had been punished for doing so.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected their claims. It concluded
that each of the examples of free speech the officers cited involved
aspects of their job responsibilities and were therefore not protected
speech. In addition, because California law says police officers official
duties include preventing crime and assisting in its detection, any
conversations with the FBI were job-related and not an exercise of free
speech. (Huppert v. City of Pittsburg, No. 06-17362, 07-16600, 9th Cir., 2009.
The court noted that the police officers
did have other remedies, including filing a whistle-blower suit against
the police department alleging that they had been retaliated against
for exposing wrongdoing.