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Cleveland Division of Waste employee sues City, officials for muzzling employees’ speech to media

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Construction-equipment-operator Crystal Jones alleges Cleveland has wrongfully restrained Waste Division employees from speaking out about safety-and-environmental concerns, discrimination, and other public-interest issues, violating First Amendment.

CLEVELAND, OHIO – Today, Crystal Jones, a construction-equipment operator in the City of Cleveland’s Division of Waste Collection, filed a civil lawsuit against the City, Waste Division Commissioner Paul Alcantar, and General Superintendent of Operations Anthony Ludwig.

Jones’s complaint alleges that the Cleveland has improperly prevented her and other Division of Waste employees from bringing to public light grave health and safety concerns at the Ridge Road Transfer Station, a Cleveland solid-waste-transfer facility where Jones has worked for over 16 years. Jones alleges that she has long wanted to speak out about everything from sex discrimination to illegal dumping of hazardous waste to the facility’s deplorable conditions, including raccoons and rodents dropping from the office ceiling, but that a no-media-contact policy (what her lawsuit calls the “Press Ban”) muzzled her speech.

The Press Ban's chilling effect has been far-reaching: it has even prevented her from attending a political rally where TV media were present, for fear that her supervisors might see her and retaliate against her for so much as appearing in a camera shot.

Jones alleges that her internal complaints about problems at the Ridge Road facility have been largely ignored, and that for any change to occur, she and other employees must be able to speak publicly. She is thus challenging the “Press Ban” on grounds that it has violated her First Amendment right to free speech, keeping her from speaking out on matters of public concern without sufficient justification. A City-wide policy restricting social-media use (what the lawsuit calls the “Social-Media Ban”) also is overbroad, she alleges.

Sandhya Gupta, one of Jones’s attorneys, said, “For too long, Cleveland has prevented the public from knowing the seedy underside of its waste-collection operations—by gagging its employees from speaking publicly, especially to the media. But with Crystal Jones’s courageous challenge the City can no longer hide behind the cover of its unconstitutional media-contact ban, suppressing its employees’ First Amendment rights. Whether it's about the mistreatment of women in a male-dominated industry, the dumping of nausea-inducing chemical waste, or the health effects of animal entrails, Ms. Jones and other employees have a right to say what they know—and the public has a right to hear it.”

The suit, captioned Jones v. City of Cleveland, et al., was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio. The complaint alleges violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and asks that Defendants be enjoined from enforcing the Press Ban and Social-Media Ban.

Subodh Chandra, Sandhya Gupta, and Patrick Kabat of the Chandra Law Firm, LLC,, represent Jones.

Related Practice Areas
Employment RetaliationFirst Amendment

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