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First Amendment Library:
Gary M. Feiereisel


O'Hare Truck Service had provided towing services for the City of Northlake, Illinois, since 1965. In 1993, the mayor of Northlake, who was seeking reelection, asked O'Hare for a campaign contribution. O'Hare refused and instead publicly supported the mayor's opponent. Shortly thereafter, O'Hare was removed from the list of towing services used by Northlake. O'Hare sued in federal court, alleging that Northlake had violated its First Amendment rights. The district court dismissed the complaint, and the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the First Amendment protections available to governmental employees did not extend to independent contractors. The First Amendment prevents the government from terminating employees who speak on matters of public concern. Connick v. Myers, 461 U.S. 138 (1983). Governmental workers also are constitutionally protected from dismissal for supporting or affiliating with a political party, unless such affiliation reasonably can be considered an appropriate job qualification. Branti v. Finkel, 445 U.S. 507 (1980); Elrod v. Burns, 427 U.S. 347 (1976). To prevail in an unlawful termination claim, the employee must show that the protected conduct was a substantial or motivating factor in the termination. Even upon such a showing, the government can prevail if it can show that it would have taken the same action absent the protected conduct or if sufficiently strong countervailing governmental interests exist. Mt. Healthy City Bd. of Education v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274 (1977);Pickering v. Board of Education of Township High School Dist., 391 U.S. 563 (1968).