Legal Principle at Issue
Whether government retaliation against a contractor or regular provider of services for the exercise of rights of political association or allegiance violates the First Amendment's free speech guarantee.
The Court found that the independent contractor relationship between O'Hare and the City was sufficiently close to an employer-employee relationship to justify the recognition of a First Amendment right.
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.
Importance of Case
The Court tempered that right somewhat by holding that the defenses set forth in Mt. Healthy and Pickering are available to the City. The Court had never before addressed the First Amendment rights of independent contractors in this context. The decision signifies increasing First Amendment rights for those who are in any way working for the government. On the same day that it decided this case, the Court decided Board of County Commissioners, Wabaunsee County v. Umbehr, 116 S. Ct. 2342, in which it held that a county government cannot punish a contractor for speaking out against county officials.