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High Court Ruling Supports Employees In Retaliation Cases


The U.S. Supreme Court has handed public employees a victory, ruling that they cannot be fired for testifying truthfully on matters of public concern. The unanimous decision broadens protections for government employees. NPR's Nina Totenberg reports.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: As head of a program for at-risk juveniles in Alabama, Edward Lane fired a state legislator who was a no-show employee. The FBI later subpoenaed Lane to testify in a public corruption investigation. The state legislator was convicted and sent to prison. Lane was not rewarded for his testimony, though he was fired. He sued, contending that his dismissal was retaliation for his exercising his First Amendment right of free speech. In a 2006 decision, a bitterly divided Supreme Court seemed to say that public employees have no free-speech rights when they learn of wrongdoing on the job. But yesterday, the Supreme Court took a very different view, writing for a unanimous court. Justice Sonia Sotomayor said that no public employee should be forced to choose between testifying truthfully and losing a job. More broadly, she said that the public interest lies in encouraging, rather than inhibiting speech by public employees because those employees are often in the best position to know what ails the agencies for which they work. Lane was elated.

EDWARD LANE: It's a win for public employees everywhere. It's a win for everyone that has witnessed wrongdoing in the workplace but was afraid to speak up because they were afraid that they might lose their job. It's a great win.

TOTENBERG: Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nina Totenberg is NPR's award-winning legal affairs correspondent. Her reports air regularly on NPR's critically acclaimed newsmagazines All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition.