Case Overview

“Yes harm, no foul.” That’s how the district court dismissed Dr. Shehata’s First Amendment retaliation claim. Yes, University of Kentucky administrators violated Dr. Shehata’s First Amendment rights by firing him for refusing to admit to healthcare fraud—a crime he steadfastly denies committing. But no, he can’t sue them for it: according to the district court, University of Kentucky administrators are immune from liability because the law they violated was not clearly established. This ruling illustrates how the doctrine of qualified immunity is increasingly being distorted to deny relief to victims of public officials. 

FIRE filed an amicus curiae brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in support of Dr. Shehata’s claim. The ruling below illustrates the problem with applying a “one-size-fits-all doctrine” to immunize public officials who commit constitutional violations. There is a clear difference between a police officer’s “split-second decision” to use force in a violent altercation, and a calculated decision by university administrators to fire an employee for his refusal to speak. FIRE has urged the court to recognize that distinction and protect victims of First Amendment retaliation like Dr. Shehata.