Legal Principle at Issue
Whether the First Amendment prevents the discharge of a state employee for circulating a questionnaire concerning internal office affairs.
The Supreme Court overruled the Fifth Circuit and held that the questionnaire was not protected expression under the First Amendment.
An Assistant District Attorney circulated internally a questionnaire regarding “office transfer policy, office morale, the need for a grievance committee, the level of confidence in supervisors, and whether employees felt pressured to work in political campaigns.” She was subsequently fired for circulating the questionnaire.
Importance of Case
The Court held that the government must be given wide latitude in determining the operations of its offices. Her termination was not unconstitutional because her questionnaire was not protected speech—as it did not address a matter of public concern. Instead, all but one of the questions addressed only internal office issues. Under Pickering v. Board of Education (1968), a public employee must speak as a citizen, on a matter of public concern, with speech that outweighs the government’s interests in efficiency in order to receive protection under the First Amendment.