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Suffolk NYCLU Sues Village of Northport for Violating the Free Speech Protections of Job Applicant

Suffolk County, New York: The Suffolk County Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union (Suffolk NYCLU) has filed a lawsuit against the Village of Northport and Northport Mayor Peter Panarites for violating the free speech protections of Michael Suchocki, an applicant for seasonal employment as a Village Dockmaster.

Suchocki, offered employment as a Dockmaster in 2001, 2002 and 2003, was denied a summer 2004 position after a winter in which he had protested the suspension of the Village Police Chief. During an April Town Board meeting, Suchocki inquired why he was not reoffered a position and was told by Village Mayor Peter Panarites, “I do not compliment people that put up signs.”

After the Board meeting, Panarites expanded on his remarks to the Northport Observer, stating, “He can express himself once in a while, but to keep doing it day in and day out is ridiculous.”

“Despite the Mayor’s hurt feelings, he can not use his position to undermine the Constitutional rights of his critics,” said Jared Feuer, Executive Director of the Suffolk NYCLU. “Denying employment to Mr. Suchocki was entirely beyond the pale of proper actions by a public servant.”p> The Suffolk NYCLU charges the Village and Mayor Panarites with denying the Constitutional rights of Suchocki by refusing him employment due to First Amendment protected activity.

“Free speech protections for government employees and applicants are written into the fabric of our laws,” said Alan Polsky, who will handle the case and is Legal Director of the Suffolk NYCLU. “Mr. Suchocki’s protest was unrelated to his employment qualifications. A government employee or applicant does not abandon his First Amendment rights and may not be punished for exercising them.”

Suchocki is seeking earnings lost over the 2004 summer season, damages from the violation of his Constitutional rights, and reinstatement as a Dockmaster in the 2005 summer season.

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