Government Workers Protected From Retaliation On Testimony, Court Says


The First Amendment protects government employees from retaliation for giving truthful testimony that was not part of their job responsibilities, a unanimous Supreme Court ruled yesterday. The case involved Edward Lane, a former director of a youth program at an Alabama public community college who was fired after giving trial testimony in a public corruption trial.

“It would be antithetical to our jurisprudence,” said Justice Sonia Sotomayor, “to conclude that the very kind of speech necessary to prosecute corruption by public officials — speech by public employees regarding information learned through their employment — may never form the basis for a First Amendment retaliation claim.” She said “such a rule would place public employees who witness corruption in an impossible position, torn between the obligation to testify truthfully and the desire to avoid retaliation and keep their jobs.” Justice Clarence Thomas, in a concurrence signed by two other justices, said the decision did not address testimony from employees like police officers and crime lab analysts for whom court appearances are “a routine and critical part of their employment duties.”

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