Pappas v. Giuliani (Defending free speech rights of public employees regarding speech unrelated to workplace)

S.D.N.Y., Index No. 00 Civ. 0320, U.S. Court of Appeals, 2nd Cir., No. 00-9487, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 02-1441 (direct)

This case deals with the restrictions of public-employee speech that is unrelated to the workplace.

Thomas Pappas was dismissed by the New York City Police Department for anonymously mailing from his home racially offensive political materials to political and other groups that had solicited him for donations. The Nassau County Police Department tracked down Pappas as the sender, and upon learning of Pappas’ occupation, notified the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau. During an interrogation by a New York City police officer, Pappas admitted to sending such materials in response to solicitations, claiming his conduct was a form of political protest.

After his dismissal, Pappas sought monetary and injunctive relief for a violation of his First Amendment rights. The District Court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment and dismissed the action. On appeal, the Second Circuit held that the reduced free-speech protections accorded to public-employee speech related to the workplace also extended to private and anonymous speech by employees that took place away from the workplace and that was unrelated to the workplace; that Pappas’ statements in the mailings were considered in violation of departmental regulations and a hindrance to the mission of the Police Department; and that, therefore, dismissal from the force was appropriate.

The NYCLU, which had previously appeared as amicus in the Second Circuit, filed a petition for a writ of certiorari. The petition questioned (1) whether the Second Circuit erred in holding that the diminished First Amendment protections accorded to public employees pursuant to Pickering v. Board of Education, 391 U.S. 563 (1968), and its progeny apply to private and anonymous expressive activity by public employees; and (2) whether, pursuant to Pickering and its progeny, a public employee can be dismissed for engaging in private and anonymous expressive activity that occurs away from the workplace and that is unrelated to the workplace because of anticipated public reaction to the content of the expressive activity. On June 27, 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court denied the petition.

Attorneys involved in this case include Chris Dunn and Arthur Eisenberg.

Status: 
Closed