Court takes case on petition clause of First Amendment (Oct. 12, 2010)
The Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether state and local government employees may sue their employers for retaliation under the Petition Clause of the First Amendment when they petitioned the government on matters of private concern.
In 2005, Duryea police chief Charles Guarnieri filed a discrimination lawsuit against the Pennsylvania borough, alleging that council members retaliated against him because he had successfully challenged a 2003 decision to fire him. Guarnieri had challenged his firing through arbitration and was reinstated to his position as chief in 2005. His suit alleged that council then issued 11 employment directives, which he claimed placed humiliating restrictions on him, to retaliate against him. He further alleged the borough improperly withheld overtime pay from him and had improperly delayed issuing health insurance benefits.
A jury heard the case in April 2008 and awarded Guarnieri $45,358 in compensatory damages and $52,000 in punitive damages. The borough appealed, arguing the evidence did not support the verdict. In February 2010, a three-judge panel on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the overall verdict entered by a federal jury, but it overturned the panel's award of $52,000 in punitive damages.
The ruling differs from decisions by all 10 other federal circuits and four state supreme courts.
On Oct. 12, 2010, the Supreme Court agreed to review the case.
Question presented: Whether state and local government employees may sue their employers for retaliation under the First Amendment’s Petition Clause when they petitioned the government on matters of private concern.