Friday, May 12, 2023
Ninth Circuit Upholds Restrictions on Public Employee's Speech During Investigation
The Ninth Circuit ruled that a public agency did not violate the First Amendment when it prohibited an employee from speaking to coworkers on matters related to the employee's alleged misconduct while an investigation was pending.
The case, Roberts v. Springfield Utility Board, arose when SUB initiated an investigation into Todd Roberts's "dishonest related to [his] work attendance." SUB prohibited Roberts from communicating with coworkers regarding the matter while the investigation proceeded. Roberts then sued, arguing that the restriction violated free speech.
The Ninth Circuit rejected the claim. The court ruled that SUB's restriction applied to speech that was not on a matter of public concern, and therefore Roberts didn't clear the first hurdle under Pickering v. Board of Education. The court noted that SUB's restriction permitted Roberts to communicate with coworkers on other matters, and allows his attorney to communicate with coworkers on matters related to the investigation.