Employee can sue governmental supervisor who infringes First Amendment freedom
Lindsey Whitney sued her boss, Chris Crider, the Mayor of the City of Milan, alleging a denial of her civil rights. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals addressed her case on appeal this week. Whitney alleged that when the Mayor fired the City Recorder, Keri Williams, Whitney was told by the mayor that she must avoid any contact with Williams or any public comments on the firing. Whitney alleged that the Mayor, knowing that Williams and Whitney were close friends, was illegally using the risk of employment termination to force Whitney to avoid having contact with Williams.Whitney filed a federal lawsuit against Williams. The Mayor sought summary disposition and appealed to the Sixth Circuit when he was denied immunity. The appellate judges ruled that she had raised a valid "1983" claim arising out of the Mayor's prior-restraint of speech. Crider's order to avoid contact or comment was a clear violation of the employee's First Amendment right of free speech on a public issue. The Mayor's claim that it was justified by his desire to avoid disharmony within his office was not sufficient to meet constitutional objections. "To justify suppression of free speech there must be reasonable ground to fear that serious evil will result if free speech is practiced." This right is so clearly established that Crider did not enjoy even qualified immunity in his actions.