HomeThe Whistleblower HandbookRule 13: If Working for the Government, Use the First Amendment

Rule 13: If Working for the Government, Use the First Amendment

Whistleblower Protections Under the First Amendment

“The public interest in having free and unhindered debate on matters of public importance [is] the core value of the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment…the threat of dismissal from public employment is [a] potent means of inhibiting speech.”

Justice Thurgood Marshall, Pickering v. Board of Education

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” – The First Amendment

  • New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964) (establishing the actual malice standard, which has to be met before press reports on public officials can be considered libel; decided in the context of the civil rights movement)
  • Linn v. United Plant Guard Workers, 383 U.S. 53 (1966) (limiting the availability of state remedies for libel to those instances in which the complainant can show that the defamatory statements were circulated with malice and caused the complainant damage)
  • Pickering v. Board of Education, 391 U.S. 563 (1968) (landmark case establishing First Amendment protections for public employee whistleblowers)
  • Garcetti v. Ceballos, 547 U.S. 410 (2006) (affirming and explaining Pickering, but limiting protections for internal disclosures)
  • Sanjour v. United States EPA, 56 F.3d 85 (D.C. Cir. 1995) (en banc)
  • Swartzwedler v. McNeilly, 297 F. 3d 228 (3rd Cir. 2002) (injunctive relief blocking implementation of anti-whistleblower rules).
  • Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 367 (1982) (immunity defense).
  • Bush v. Lucas, 462 U.S. 367 (1983) and Weaver v. USIA, 87 F.3d 1429 (D.C> CIr.) (requirement to use administrative remedies in federal cases).
  • Carey v. Piphus, 435 U.S. 247, 253 (1978) (§ 1983 creates tort-like liability).
  • Mt Healthy v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274 (1977) (burden of proof).
  • Wil v. Michigan, 491 U.S. 58 (1989) (immunity defenses and requirement to name individual government managers as defendants).
  • Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 483 (1994) (no requirement to exhaust state administrative remedies when filing claim under § 1983)
  • Owens v. Okure, 488 U.S. 235 (1989) (because §1983 does not have a statute of limitations, the deadline for filing claims is controlled by the local statute of limitations for personal injury cases)

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