Whistleblowers and other on-the-job advocates are common victims of workplace retaliation, but few people in Massachusetts might expect to be discriminated against for helping their mother. While perhaps unexpected, that’s exactly what an out-of-state police officer claims happened to him. He ultimately took his employee rights violation claim all the way up to the Supreme Court.
During a mayoral election, the officer retrieved a campaign sign for a certain candidate and proceeded to speak with some of the campaign workers. Other officers who witnessed this were under the impression that he was voicing his support for that candidate, causing his boss to retaliate by demoting the man. The demoted officer had simply been picking up the campaign sign to take to his mother. Although she supported the candidate, he claims that he had no involvement whatsoever with the campaign.
When the officer filed suit against the city, the ruling against him came quickly. The judge stated that the city could not have violated his First Amendment right because he was not actually a supporter of the candidate and had not been in the process of exercising that right while helping out his mother. He appealed that ruling, eventually arriving at the Supreme Court, who had a different view on the matter. It ruled that while no, the officer had not been engaging his First Amendment rights, all that truly mattered was the employer’s perception of the situation and its actions taken based on those beliefs.
The Supreme Court’s ruling simply means that the officer will have another shot at successfully navigating his lawsuit against the city. Many employers in Massachusetts attempt to circumvent responsibility for violating employee rights utilizing loopholes or strict interpretations of the law. Despite this, employees who have been discriminated against can usually achieve just legal recourse through a committed claim against the offending employer.
Source: charlotteobserver.com, “High court sides with police officer in free speech case”, Same Hananel, April 26, 2016