November 21, 2001 by Tom Roberts, Esq.
Victory in 4th Circuit Court of Appeals
The law firm of Thomas H. Roberts & Associates, P.C. announced an important victory. In an unpublished opinion, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the defense of qualified immunity is not available to the government in Title VII cases. This fact is especially important when individuals are being sued for violation of related First Amendment rights when government officials punish or retaliate against individuals who oppose unlawful employment practices in violation of Title VII.
An employer wishing to defend against specific allegations of impermissible retaliation must present evidence that the speech triggering his actions actually interfered with the functioning of his office, and may not merely assert a “generalized and unsubstantiated” interest against disruptions. Goldstein, 218 F.3d at 356; Robinson, 160 F.3d at 189. The Sheriff has put forth only speculative and unsubstantiated charges of office disruption. Moreover, the government’s interest in efficiency generally bears more weight than an employee’s interest in commenting on matters of public concern only when the employee-speaker is an agency-head or is in a policy making position. See McVey v. Stacy, 157 F.3d 271, 278-79 (4th Cir. 1998). The deputies were low ranking law enforcement officers without policy making authority. Accordingly, at this juncture, the deputies have alleged sufficient facts to satisfy the second prong of a retaliation claim.
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