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Labor & Employment - Retaliatory Discharge for Protected Speech

In Drager v. Village of Bellwood, an electrician employed by the Village alleged that he was terminated because he complained that he was having to engage in political activities during work hours, and because he notified his union and OSHA when the Village failed to act on his recommendations regarding mold, asbestos, and code violations he discovered at the Village's Teen Center.  The Court looked at whether or not his speech was constitutionally protected by the First Amendment, stating that public employees do not surrender such rights by reason of their employment, so long as they are speaking as citizens about matters of public concern.

Thus, for the Court the initial inquiry was whether or not the employee was speaking as a citizen or as a public employee.  Then the Court must also determine whether the speech addresses matters of a public concern.  The Court must look at the content, form, and context of a given statement.  Speech that serves only a personal interest, instead of a public one, does not pass constitutional muster.  It must also be potentially of interest to the public.  The Court held that it was of some public interest that electrical work around the Village was not being done allegedly because an employee of the Department was being asked to do political campaign work instead, and it allowed the emloyee's claim to go forward on that Count.

The Court also looked at whether the employee stated a claim for retaliatory discharge under Illinois law, which requires that the discharge violates a clear mandate of public policy.  The Court again ruled in his favor, noting that he cited to a State statute which prohibits officials from using their position to coerce co-workers into performing political activities while at work or on duty. 

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