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U.S. Supreme Court: government employers cannot retaliate even when mistaken about employees' exercise of First Amendment rights

On April 26, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed the principle that public employers cannot retaliate against or punish employees for protected speech under the First Amendment. The decision, Heffernan v. City of Paterson, was unique in that it held that protection against retaliation applies regardless of whether the employee actually engages in protected speech or the employer mistakenly attributes the protected speech to the employee.

In Heffernan, a police detective picked up a campaign sign for his mother, who was supporting a challenger in the mayor's race. When his boss, whom the incumbent mayor appointed, caught wind of Heffernan's presence at the challenger's distribution center to collect a campaign sign, Heffernan was demoted from detective to patrol officer. The Supreme Court held that this adverse action violated Heffernan's rights even though the sign was for someone else.

The Chandra Law Firm LLC has successfully represented employees in First Amendment disputes with their government employers over protected expression. We obtained a jury verdict of over $2,000,000 in one such case.

If you have faced retaliation for exercising your right to speak freely on matters of public concern, or support the political candidates of your choice, contact us to discuss whether you may have a claim.

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