Earlier this year, the Second Circuit came out with an important, wide-ranging decision that clarified the protections that public employees have under the First Amendment. Specifically, any speech that is "pursuant to" an employee’s duties is not protected.
In a summary order last week arising out of Connecticut, the Second Circuit reinforced that fact. In Paola v. Spada (download here), the Court rejected the arguments by a former state trooper that his oral and written complaints to Internal Affairs about his supervisor’s alleged mismanagement and potentially unlawful conduct were not "pursuant to" his official duties.
In reaching its decision, the court relied on its earlier precedent that speech can be made "pursuant to a public employee’s official job duties even though it is not required by, or included in, the employee’s job description or in response to a request by the employer."
In Paola, the court found that the record has much evidence that troopers must report potential wrongdoing either up the chain of command or to an Internal Affairs officers either through the employee manual or just as a matter of understanding. The court concluded that the state trooper reported the potential wrongdoing because it was "part of his duty as a state trooper".
For public employers, this decision demonstrates that the Second Circuit is comfortable with the limits to First Amendment claims that it ruled on earlier this year.
Private employers in Connecticut should also be aware that Conn. Gen. Stat. 31-51q applies the First Amendment protections to the private workplace. To what extent these federal court decisions will impact the interpretation of state law is an issue now pending in several cases in the Connecticut courts.