Justices Rule Public Employee Testimony is Protected in Lane v. Franks

In the June 19, 2014 opinion, the United States Supreme Court held that sworn testimony by public employees outside their job responsibilities, is protected by the First Amendment from retaliation. The court ultimately ruled that the testimony given by Edward Lane should not have resulted in his termination from his job.

In 2006, Lane was the director of the Central Alabama Community Colleges statewide intensive training for youth program. During an audit of the program, Lane discovered that a representative, Susan Schmidt, was being paid without reporting to work at the community college. Lane then terminated Schmidt’s employment and in a federal investigation Schmidt was indicted on charges of mail fraud and theft regarding receiving those federal funds. Lane was then subpoenaed for testimony, where he testified that Schmidt had been receiving federal funds from his program without actually being an employee. Subsequent to Franks’ testimony, the president of the Central Alabama community college terminated Lane, along with 28 other employees apparently to address financial difficulties. However, a few days later all of the terminations but two were rescinded. Lane remained terminated.

In 2009, Lane then filed a lawsuit against his employer in both his individual and official capacity as President of the Central Alabama Community College, alleging that Franks had violated Lane’s First Amendment rights and protections. Lane requested damages in the form of monetary damages and his reinstatement in his job with the Central Alabama Community College. Prior to the Supreme Court’s ruling, two lower courts sided with Franks and the college, holding that because Lane had acted in his official capacity in firing Schmidt and testifying against her he had no First Amendment protections as a public employee. But, the Supreme Court disagreed. In its decision it ruled,

as a citizen on matter of public concern, a quintessential example of citizen speech for the simple reason that any one that testifies in court bears an obligation to the court and society at large to tell the truth.

This decision by the United States Supreme Court could impact how whistleblowers in the United States are treated. The Court went on further to say that just because someone decides to take public employment; it does not mean that they have then sacrificed their First Amendment rights.