A police sergeant with over 25 years of service was terminated from employment after posting statements that were critical of the police chief on Facebook. The termination took place shortly after she returned from suspension for violating policy during her response to a domestic disturbance call. The Facebook post related to a decision by the city council to disallow police officers to use patrol cars to attend the funeral of a police officer who was killed in the line of duty in another town. No officers attended the funeral. In her Facebook post and subsequent comments, the officer referred to this as “unacceptable” and made inflammatory statements such as “if you don’t want to lead, can you just get the hell out of the way.” She also posted her statements on the mayor’s public Facebook page.

The officer filed a lawsuit, alleging that her employment was terminated in retaliation for exercising her First Amendment right to engage in free speech. The district court dismissed the case and she appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is the court that oversees Texas appeals. On appeal, she argued that she spoke as a citizen rather than a public employee, she spoke on a matter of public concern to the community and her interest in speaking on a matter of public concern outweighed that of the police department to maintain efficiency.

The court of appeals held that she was speaking as a citizen when she made the post, but that her speech did not address a matter of public concern, but rather involved a dispute over an internal department decision. When she made the posts, the officer was angry due to her previous suspension and conceded that her anger motivated her to make the statements. Therefore, her speech was made within the context of a private employee-employer dispute and was not protected public speech. The court also found that the police department was entitled to terminate the employment of officer in order to prevent disruption caused by her comments. The speech was not protected by the First Amendment and the termination of employment was upheld.