Garcetti v. Ceballos
547 U.S. 410 (2006)

  • Ceballos worked for Garcetti in the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office. He felt that a search warrant in one of their cases contained errors and that it violated the suspect’s 4th Amendment rights.
  • Cebellos mentioned his concerns to Garcetti, but was unsatisfied. He wrote a memo about his concerns and even went so far as to testify for the defense about the admissibility of evidence gathered via the search warrant.
    • The Trial Court upheld the warrant.
  • Cebellos then claimed that he was subjected to retaliation for his actions. He was denied a promotion and was reassigned. He filed an employment grievance, and after that was denied he sued.
    • Cebellos argued that the retaliation was an unconstitutional infringement of his 1st Amendment right to free speech.
  • The Trial Court found for Garcetti and dismissed the case. Ceballos appealed.
    • The Trial Court found that because Ceballos wrote his memo as part of his job duties, he was not entitled to 1st Amendment protection for the memoÕs contents.
    • The Court also found that even if Ceballos had a protected speech right in this context, the right was not clearly established and so qualified immunity applied to his supervisors’ actions.
  • The Appellate Court reversed. Garcetti appealed.
    • The Appellate Court found that the memo was protected speech because Ceballos was speaking “as a citizen upon matters of public concern.”
  • The US Supreme Court reversed and found for Garcetti.
    • The US Supreme Court found that the 1st Amendment does not prevent employees from being disciplined for expressions they make pursuant to their professional duties.
      • Basically, the Court found that public employees are not speaking as citizens when they are speaking on a matter of their employment. Therefore they do not have the constitutional protections of a citizen.
  • This decision removed any protections that whistleblowers might have under the 1st Amendment. However, most whistleblowers are protected by specific Statutes, and do not rely on constitutional protections.