The Supreme Court, in its May 30, 2006, decision, Garcetti, et al. v. Ceballos, held that a public employee engaged in job duties does not enjoy a First Amendment right to free speech for statements the “employee makes pursuant to his or her official responsibilities.”  Ceballos, a lawyer in the district attorney’s office, recommended dismissal of criminal charges against a defendant, doing so in a memo, in conversations, in a meeting that allegedly became "heated," and in court. 

After a demotion and reassignment, Ceballos filed suit claiming Free Speech protections for the statements in the memo.  The Court held that a public employer retains broad discretion over employees performing duties, and employees do not speak as citizens when they are communicating pursuant to their official duties. 

For teachers, the decision could mean that the First Amendment may not protect teachers who raise complaints in routine job-related communications. 

The Court recognized that public employees can:

1) act as citizens, e.g., by writing letters to a newspaper on matters of public concern;

2) file grievances; and

3) assert whistleblower claims according to specific laws.   

If objecting to an administrator’s failure to discipline students or pressuring teachers to keep failure rates artificially low, teachers should do so in a grievance filed according to local policy.  To discuss specific instances or options, TCTA members should call the TCTA Legal Department toll-free at 1-888-879-8282 to speak with an attorney.