This post was contributed by James Welch, a Summer Associate with McNees Wallace and Nurick LLC. Mr. Welch will begin his third year of law school at William & Mary School of Law in the fall, and he expects to earn his J.D. in May 2012.
In Borough of Duryea v. Guarnieri, 113 S.Ct. 2488 (2011) (PDF), the United States Supreme Court clarified that, although the Petition Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution provides public employees separate and distinct protections, those protections are essentially the same as those afforded by the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. This is good news for public sector employers, who already face a slew of additional concerns in the area of employee discipline.
The Petition Clause has been trendy for public employees lately, but its contours have been somewhat unclear. Generally, the Petition Clause protects the rights of individuals to petition the government to seek redress of grievances. The courts have held that this provision protects public employees who file grievances against their employers. In other words, public employers are prohibited from retaliating against an employee who has filed a grievance or other complaint.
However, like other protections afforded to employees, there are limits to the protections afforded by the Petition Clause. The issue in Guarnieri was, what types of grievances/complaints are protected?