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Locurto v. Giuliani (Challenging dismissal of NYC employees for racially offensive expression)

This case arose over the dismissal of three New York City civil service employees due to a racially offensive form of expression. In this case, the NYCLU represented a former NYPD officer who was fired after participating off-duty in a racially offensive float that was part of a 1998 Labor Day Parade in Broad Channel, Queens. The trial drew considerable attention not only because of the controversy surrounding the float but also because Mayor Rudy Giuliani was a defendant and testified at the trial.

In June 2003, Southern District Judge John Sprizzo found that the dismissal of Locurto and two firefighters involved in the float violated the First Amendment. In particular, Judge Sprizzo found that Mr. Giuliani directed the dismissals both because of his personal objection to the content of the float and also as a political reaction to the heavy criticism he was receiving for his handling of the Million Youth March, which had taken place just two days before the Broad Channel parade. Because the court had directed the bifurcation of liability and remedy issues, the parties only then began addressing the question of remedy. While preserving its right to appeal, the city then agreed that, under Judge Sprizzo’s liability ruling, Mr. Locurto was entitled to be reinstated and was entitled to backpay for salary and benefits he lost as a result of his dismissal.

Judge Sprizzo entered a remedy order in November 2004, and the city proceeded with its appeal to the United States Court of Appeals. On April 27, 2006, the Second Circuit reversed Judge Sprizzo’s ruling. The Second Circuit determined that the actions of the defendants were reasonable, and outweighed the plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights to participate in the parade. 

S.D.N.Y., Index No. 98 Civ. 6495 (JES), U.S. Court of Appeals, 2nd Cir., No. 00-7628 (direct) 

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