Turner v. City & Cty. of San Francisco

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: First Amendment
  • Date Filed: 06-11-2015
  • Case #: 13-15099
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Smith for the Court; Circuit Judge Wallace, and Circuit Judge Friedland
  • Full Text Opinion

Government employees are not afforded First Amendment protection when they voice grievances about employee-employer internal affairs, because those matters are not of or relating to public concern.

Peter Turner (“Turner”) alleged that his employer, the City and County of San Francisco, wrongfully discharged Turner under the First Amendment. In 2007, Turner applied for a permanent position in the Department of Public Works. Turner was subsequently informed that he was merely hired as a temporary employee. As a result, Turner addressed his employment concerns to his superiors at internal meetings, which in turn prevented him from obtaining employment promotions. Turner then wrote a letter to human resources regarding his observations of the supervisors’ potentially unlawful practices. Shortly thereafter, Turner was summoned to a meeting with human resources and supervisors, whereupon he was fired the next day. The district court dismissed Turner’s complaint, holding that Turner’s speech was motivated by his frustrations about employment conditions rather than speaking as a citizen regarding matters of public concern. Employees bringing suit against their government employer for a violation of the First Amendment must show: (1) the employee engaged in protected speech; (2) “adverse employment action” was taken by the government employer; and (3) that the employee’s speech was a “substantial or motivating factor for the adverse employment action.” On appeal, the Ninth Circuit analyzed protected speech with regard to government employees. The panel explained that public employees’ speech is protected under the First Amendment if the employee spoke as a citizen regarding matters of public concern, where public concern is determined by its content, form, and context – further determined by the speaker’s motive. The panel followed the lower court’s rationale in that Turner only expressed himself within his established place of employment, rather than pursuing the press or airing his concerns in a public forum. Therefore, the panel held that Turner’s speech was outside the scope of First Amendment protection. AFFIRMED.

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