Law School Case Brief
Connick v. Myers - 461 U.S. 138, 103 S. Ct. 1684 (1983)
Whether a public employee's speech addresses a matter of public concern must be determined by the content, form, and context of a given statement, and a questionnaire distributed to fellow employees addressing transfers and moral could be found to be insubordinate.
Sheila Myers was employed as an Assistant District Attorney for 5 1/2 years, serving at the pleasure of the District Attorney. During this period, Myers competently performed her responsibilities of trying criminal cases. Myers was then informed that she would be transferred to prosecute cases in a different section of criminal court, which transfer she strongly opposed. She expressed her opposition to several of her supervisors, including the District Attorney. Despite her objections, she was notified that she was being transferred. Myers then prepared a questionnaire soliciting the views of her fellow staff members concerning office transfer policy, office morale, the need for a grievance committee, the level of confidence in supervisors, and whether employees felt pressured to work in political campaigns. She then distributed the questionnaire to 15 assistant district attorneys. The District Attorney ordered her to be terminated because of her refusal to accept the transfer and also told her that distribution of the questionnaire was considered an act of insubordination. Myers filed suit under 42 USCS 1983, contending that her employment was wrongfully terminated because she had exercised a constitutionally-protected right of free speech. The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana agreed, ordered the employee reinstated, and awarded backpay, damages, and attorney's fees, finding that the questionnaire was the real reason for the employee's termination and holding that the questionnaire involved matters of public concern and that the state had not clearly demonstrated that the survey substantially interfered with the operations of the District Attorney's office. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed on the basis of the District Court's opinion.
Was Myers’ discharge violative of her First Amendment rights?
The Court held that Myers’ discharge did not offend the First Amendment. The questionnaire was an employee grievance concerning internal office policy. The questions posed in the survey were not matters of public concern. The purpose of the questionnaire was to precipitate a vote of no confidence in the supervisor. The functioning of the supervisor's office was endangered, because Myers exercised her rights to speech at the office. The limited First Amendment interest involved in the case did not require the supervisor to tolerate action which he reasonably believed would disrupt the office, undermine his authority, and destroy close working relationships.
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