In denying a motion for judgment on the pleadings, a federal trial court judge has allowed a police officer's federal civil rights claims to proceed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.
Seth J. Robbins, a partner at the firm, and Benjamin J. Wish represent the claimant, a former police officer for the Town of Framingham who is suing his former employer and the Assistant to the Chief of Police for violating his free speech rights related to public safety issues he raised with the Chief of Police and later in a formal letter through the police officers' union.
In an 12-page decision, U.S. District Court Judge Indira Talwani ruled that the First Amendment retaliation claims should proceed because the complaint sufficiently alleges that the client's statements touched on a matter of public concern and were made as a citizen rather than as an employee.
The ruling clarifies when a public employee's speech related to his or her job is protected under the First Amendment. The judge emphasized that the merit of a federal civil rights claim based on free speech is determined by the context of the speech in question, and an employee's day-to-day job tasks rather than written job duties.
During an April 2015 meeting with the police chief, the firm's client raised concerns that his assistant was jeopardizing public safety by performing police duties, despite lacking formal training as a police officer. The police chief did not act on the complaint.
The firm's client brought the public safety issue to the attention of the police officers' union, which sent a letter to the police chief with specific allegations regarding the untrained colleague's job actions, including motor vehicle stops, responding to police calls, and appearing at active crime scenes.
The firm's client largely drafted the letter and signed it along with other members of the union's Executive Board.
The firm's client was later put on administrative leave and ultimately terminated, prompting him to file the federal civil rights suit.
Alycia Kennedy of the firm also represents the client.