Fire chief’s 15-day suspension upheld despite First Amendment concerns

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit upheld a District Court’s decision rejecting a First Amendment claim by Randolph, Mass. Fire Chief Charles Foley, who was suspended for fifteen days after lamenting underfunding and lack of proper staffing in his department due to recent budget cuts.

Following a house fire, Chief Foley spoke at a press conference and explained that elimination of some positions had led to shorter response times in his jurisdiction.  He also spoke against a state referendum that had limited property tax increases.  Although the speech was clearly on a “matter of public concern” (which, at a minimum, is required if speech by a public employee is to be protected), the U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial decision, Garcetti v. Ceballos required the court to scrutinize whether the speech was offered in an official capacity rather than as a citizen.  Pointing to the Fire Chief’s regular job evaluations (which noted that public relations was a job duty), the court concluded that the Fire Chief’s protection under the First Amendment was limited.

The case is Foley v. Randolph, Mass.  More information for members’ First Amendment rights can be found at the legal department’s web site.

Growth of “family responsibilities discrimination” claims

A report issued by the Center on WorkLife Law, a nonprofit group based out of the University of California Hastings College of the Law, has noted the rapid growth of suits on behalf of employees who suffer adverse employment actions in retaliation for taking time off to care for a newborn or an elderly or terminally-ill immediate family member. So-called “family responsibilities discrimination” (FRD) claims have grown 400% over the past ten years, according to the report.  An interesting BNA report (sorry, subscription only) relates the Center’s director’s own observations about the source of the growth, which she broke into several categories, including “new supervisor syndrome” (where a group of employees come under a new supervisor who is unaccustomed to accommodating an employee’s need to manage family responsibilities) or “second child bias” (where supervisors are sympathetic to new parents, but less so for those have a second child).  Of particular interest for, I suspect, a growing number of families is the “elder care effect,” where employers take actions against employees because they make use of leave to care for an aging parent.

The report can be found here (pdf).