SteveK July 21st, 2011
In a decision unifying the approach to what are referred to as “petition clause” cases, The United States Supreme Court reversed a Third Circuit decision upholding a jury verdict in favor of a public employee. In Borough of Duryea v. Guarnieri the plaintiff, a municipal employee, claimed the municipality retaliated against him after he filed a lawsuit. The employee claimed his lawsuit was a protected activity under the First Amendment because he was “petitioning” the government with his grievances. Under the existing Third Circuit jurisprudence, the trial court agreed and submitted the matter to the jury. The jury returned a verdict against the municipality. The Supreme Court reversed indicating that there is a requirement that in order for an activity to be protected pursuant to the Petition Clause of the First Amendment, the “petition” or grievance, or lawsuit, must involve a matter of public concern. AS a result, the municipality was therefore absolved of liability. Therefore, if a grievance or complaint by an employee involves an internal matter, the municipality cannot be held liable under the petition clause of the First Amendment.
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