Legal Principle at Issue
Does the 1st Amendment protect a public employee’s subpoenaed trial testimony that was not a part of the employee’s ordinary job responsibilities?
Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded in part. The lower courts would determine whether Lane could sue Franks in his official capacity.
As Director of Community Intensive Training for Youth, a program for underprivileged youth operated by Central Alabama Community College (CACC), petitioner Edward Lane conducted an audit of the program’s expenses and discovered that Suzanne Schmitz had not been reporting for work. Lane eventually terminated Schmitz’ employment. Shortly thereafter, federal authorities indicted Schmitz on charges of mail fraud and theft. Lane testified, under subpoena, regarding the events that led to his termination of Schmitz. Schmitz was convicted and sentenced to 30 months in prison. Later, respondent Franks, then CACC’s president, terminated Lane along with 28 other employees in a claimed effort to address the financial difficulties. A few days later, however, Franks rescinded all but 2 of the 29 terminations—those of Lane and one other. Lane sued Franks in his individual and official capacities, alleging that Franks had violated the 1st Amendment by firing him in retaliation for testifying against Schmitz.
Importance of Case
The Court held that government employee speech that is made during trial is protected citizen speech on a public matter, and the employee cannot be fired for comments made in that setting. The Court, however, dismissed some of Lane's claims on qualified immunity grounds because Lane’s constitutional right was not clearly established at the time he was fired. He could still sue his former employer in his official capacity.