Mt. Healthy City School District Board of Education v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274 (1977)
A non-tenured high school teacher objected to a newly proposed teacher dress code. He circulated a memo from the school principal and gave it to a radio station, which reported on the dress code issue. When the teacher’s contract came up for renewal, the school declined to renew it. He sued, claiming that his employment was terminated in response to his public opposition to the teacher dress code. The school board asserted that it had other valid reasons for not rehiring the teacher. These included an allegation that the teacher made an obscene gesture to two students and was involved in an argument with another teacher.
Whether a public employer can defend itself in a First Amendment retaliation claim by proving that it would have made the same employment decision in the absence of the employee’s protected First Amendment activity.
In a unanimous decision, the Court held that an employer can successfully defend itself in First Amendment employee litigation by showing that it would have made the same decision in the absence of the protected speech activity.
An employee in a First Amendment retaliation case must show that the adverse employment action was taken in response to protected First Amendment activity. The employee must show that the employee’s speech or expression played a "substantial role" in the adverse employment decision. But the employer can show that it would have made the same employment decision even if the employee had not engaged in the protected activity. This is now known as a "Mt. Healthy defense."
"The constitutional principle at stake is sufficiently vindicated if such an employee is placed in no worse a position than if he had not engaged in the conduct. A borderline or marginal candidate should not have the employment question resolved against him because of constitutionally protected conduct. But that same candidate ought not to be able, by engaging in such conduct, to prevent his employer from assessing his performance record and reaching a decision not to rehire on the basis of that record, simply because the protected conduct makes the employer more certain of the correctness of its decision." (Chief Justice William Rehnquist)
Read more about this case at firstamendmentcenter.org:
Sunday, December 8, 2013 | 09:15:39